MONROE, CT — Donald Rodgerson, commander of Easton’s American Legion Post 160, shared a moving story during his turn at the podium, at his post’s annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony on Stepney Green with Monroe’s Post 176, Thursday morning.
One night he dined with his wife at a local restaurant, when they noticed a young man in uniform seated with his girlfriend at another table. A waitress told them it was the younger couple’s last night together, before the soldier was deployed.
When he was finished eating, Rodgerson told the waitress to give him the young man’s tab, so he could pay for their meal.
“It warmed my heart seeing his face when he got the non-bill,” Rodgerson said. “The waitresses and waiters went to his table and clapped for him and everyone else in the restaurant stood and applauded.”
Rodgerson, a retired Army First Sergeant, remembers how much it meant to him when people first recognized him for his service to his country.
“I will never forget that moment and I’m sure he will never forget it,” Rodgerson said of the young man.
Thursday’s ceremony was attended by local veterans, Monroe First Selectman Ken Kellogg, Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass and State Rep. Tony Scott, R-112th. There was also a strong showing among Monroe police officers, who attended to show their respect.
The Rev. Kevin Merritt, pastor of Stepney Baptist Church, gave the opening prayer, reminding everyone how freedom is not free and asking God to keep the men and women serving in the military safe.
The ceremony also included a laying of wreathes by the Monroe Lions Club and the American Legion’s Sippin-Winspur Post 176, and the lowering of the American flag. Father Rodriquez, of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, offered the benediction at the end.
The Save Our Stepney Task Force adorned the green with 13 American flags to honor veterans for the occasion.
Victor Yanosy, commander of Post 176, told the crowd how Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, a federal holiday observed on Nov. 11, the day World War I ended in 1918.
He then read the names of Monroe residents, who served from 1914 to 1919, and have their names engraved on a plaque on a stone boulder war memorial on Stepney Green.
A changing world
Bindelglass and Kellogg both thanked the veterans for their service. Bindelglass noted how Veterans Day took place soon after the municipal election, adding fair and free elections are one of the main rights the U.S. military fights for.
“God bless America and God bless all of you,” Bindelglass said.
Kellogg spoke of how the men and women who serve protect our lives and liberty, while sacrificing time with their families amid dangerous conditions, while some make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“The gift of freedom, we often take for granted,” Kellogg said. “We thank you for this gift and for your service to the community and our country.”
Scott spoke of how we show respect and admiration for our heroes on Veterans Day. “Let’s keep in mind, there are also 364 other days and remember all those sacrifices, the hard work and everything they gave up along the way,” he said.
Retired Army Col. Ronald Berry, of Easton, warned of a changing world where China, North Korea, Russia and Iran are looming threats. He said it is critical to support our military to protect our rights and freedoms.
Thank yous for everyone
Girl Scouts traditionally host a luncheon for the veterans in Easton following the ceremony on Stepney Green, but Rodgerson said that would not happen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rodgerson expressed his gratitude to the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. “I have a warm heart for anything in scouting,” he said.
Rodgerson became a Boy Scout at age 11, earned his Eagle Scout ranking, and was later appointed squad leader in the Army, because of his scouting experience.
He brought thank you cards with him to the ceremony. The cards were made by Cub Scouts from Easton Post 166 to thank the veterans. Rodgerson encouraged veterans on the green to take one before leaving.
“I would like each and every one of you to get a thank you,” he said.