BRATTLEBORO -- Nearly 70 years after his B-17 bomber was shot down, Richard Hamilton was grateful to share a noontime buffet with hundreds celebrating Veterans Day at Brattleboro's VFW.
But the Marlboro resident felt even more thankful for the four generations of family represented at his table. Hamilton took special note of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"It's gratifying to know that two more generations are going to appreciate what we did in World War II," he said.
Appreciation and remembrance were the themes of Monday's ceremonies inside a packed hall at VFW Post 1034 on Black Mountain Road. Amid patriotic tunes from the Brattleboro American Legion Band, speakers sounded notes of gratitude.
"Veterans Day is a day to remember all veterans, both living and dead, and their sacrifices," said Patricia Como, auxiliary co-chairwoman.
Como added that veterans are represented in all walks of life.
"We are the neighbors next door, the owner of the grocery store and the firemen saving lives," she said.
That was a point also made by guest speaker David Wright, chaplain for both the VFW post and Brattleboro's American Legion post. Wright said the military is a "melting pot of melting pots," where those with varying ethnic and religious backgrounds are bonded by service to their country.
That's one reason, Wright told the crowd, that patriotism must be separated from politics.
"Military service is not a referendum on political activity," Wright said.
SLIDESHOW: Brattleboro Area Veterans Day Observance, here.
Organizers said they were happy with -- but not particularly surprised by -- the strong turnout for the event on a Monday morning.
Richard Campbell, a Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran who commands the VFW post, noted veterans who served as far back as World War II and as recently as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In some cases, even after a veteran dies, "their family members keep coming here, because it means a lot to them," Campbell said. "It's nice to bring the community together."
The crowd included representatives of Brattleboro's police and fire departments and town office. Also attending were a handful of students from St. Michael Roman Catholic School in Brattleboro.
Principal Elaine Beam said the VFW served a classroom for those students on Monday morning.
"Our mission at the school is service and leadership and one nation under God," Beam said. "We heard all of those messages today, expressed quite beautifully."
For Hamilton, the message of his ordeal during World War II is one of perseverance and faith. A member of the Army Air Corps stationed in England, he recalls feeling awe at the sight of the "mammoth" B-17 bombers.
But on July 20, 1944, during Hamilton's ninth mission, his plane was shot down. He spent the next 10 months in a prison camp, and Hamilton says his physical and spiritual strength got him through.
"It was my strong faith," he said. "During prison camp, I was able to get into the reading of the scriptures. I found the 91st Psalm."
That biblical passage contains references to both trust and terror. The way Hamilton sees it, those were elements of each mission, regardless of the outcome.
"Every B-17 was loaded with fuel and bombs to drop," Hamilton said. "I'll tell you another thing that was on that plane -- a lot of faith and fear that went along with it."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.