BOSTON — Gold Star families received bouquets of roses, a candle was lit in honor of the missing in action and prisoners of war, and two World War II veterans received the French Legion of Honor Medal as Massachusetts paused to pay tribute to military members past and present.
"Thank you for your sacrifice to protect the freedom of us all," Gov. Deval Patrick told a Statehouse Veterans Day gathering in Memorial Hall, where images of flags carried into battle by Massachusetts regiments are on display along with murals depicting the Battle of Old North Bridge in Concord and other scenes from the state's history.
The ceremony was among several held throughout the state. Boston's annual Veterans Day parade stepped off from Boston Common and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox offered free tours of Fenway Park to veterans and active service members.
The Statehouse observance included a special tribute to Massachusetts veterans of the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, also known as Operation Desert Storm. Department of Veterans Services Secretary Coleman Nee, who served in that conflict, said some 30 percent of Gulf War veterans continue to be plagued by unexplained maladies, such as chronic fatigue, coughing and rashes.
"We must ensure that our nation is dedicated to the research and effort to find both an explanation and treatments for our brothers and sisters who are still today coping with the effects of their deployment and service to our nation 23 years later," said Nee, who read the names of nine Massachusetts soldiers who died in Operation Desert Storm.
Another solemn moment came when floral bouquets were presented to several mothers and wives of Massachusetts service members killed in overseas wars. A standing ovation followed for the Gold Star families in attendance.
A hush fell over the gathering as a single candle was lit in the hall to honor Americans missing in action and those who were prisoners of war.
Fabien Fieschi, the French consul general to Boston who has worked to locate Massachusetts residents who served in France during World War II, presented the French Legion of Honor Medal to two such veterans, Gordon Oro and Joseph Crevier.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, a Democratic candidate for governor, said prior to attending the ceremony that if elected he would push to elevate the Secretary of Veterans Services to a full cabinet position.
Nee currently has sub-cabinet status, reporting to the state secretary of health and human services, who in turn reports to the governor. Under Grossman's plan, which would require legislative approval, the secretary would report directly to the governor.
Veterans "deserve the best services and protections government can provide," he said.
Patrick, who is not seeking re-election, was non-committal about elevating the veterans post, saying that "substance" was most important and that under the current system, Massachusetts leads the nation in providing benefits and services to veterans.