BOSCAWEN, New Hampshire — Richard Velez is a veteran who makes it clear: He didn't serve in a war, but he welcomed home family and friends — brothers all — who had seen "the beast" that is combat.
At a Veterans Day ceremony Monday at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery, Velez joined hundreds of others to pay their respects and honor the sacrifices of members of the military, past and present. Velez, a 51-year-old from Dover who served with the Army from 1980-86, rode to the peaceful patch of land along the Merrimack River with the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Veterans Motorcycle Club USA.
"This is a place of brokenness," he said of the cemetery. "Just being here, you find that peace that you're looking for, that you need. And you feel less broken."
He said veterans — those who have seen combat and those who haven't — take special solace in the cemetery's green expanses. They find their connection in the orderly rows of headstones that remember comrades from the Civil War to the present.
"It's the brotherhood," he said. "We never rest because of the beast we've seen. And once you've seen the beast, you can't unsee it."
The veterans were easy to find on Monday. They wore ball caps that identified the branch they served in and the foreign lands where they fought. Patches designated service in high profile units like Airborne or Rangers. Some came in wheelchairs; others still carried themselves with the shoulders-back posture they learned at basic training. When the colors were presented, the salutes were sharp.
"It's really celebrating the 28 million veterans living in the United States today and the 128,000 who call New Hampshire home," said Maj. Gen. William Reddel III, the state's adjutant general. He noted there are still 150 service members from New Hampshire fighting in Afghanistan, America's longest war. Dressed in his camouflage BDUs — battle duty uniform — he was conspicuous against the dignitaries and dress uniforms that dotted the rostrum. It was his show of solidarity with soldiers overseas.
"Because that's what they're fighting in until they come home," he said.
Sheila Hill's father, Stanley, is buried at the cemetery. The Korean War Army veteran died last year and his daughter said the land, with some 5,000 veterans and 1,000 family members buried there, carries special significance for his family.
"I think it's because we know what they did for us and we appreciate it more," she said.