NATICK, Mass. - Older and grayer now, they had come wearing hats and lapel pins with various reminders of their past sacrifices - "Marine Corps League," "Airborne," "VFW" and others.

As he looked out from the podium and across generations that reached back to World War II, Col. Gaston Bathalon offered a few words of praise for the aging warriors.

"Tonight, I tell you how honored I am to wear this uniform and to be counted among your numbers," said Bathalon, commander of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. "I remain in awe of what you all - you and your families - have endured to get us to this place in history.

"Whether you served in peace or during times of conflict, it mattered then, it matters now and it ... sure will matter in the future."

They had gathered Nov. 11 at Lord Community Center at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center for the Town of Natick's annual Veterans' Appreciation Dinner. Bathalon told those assembled how today's military members receive warm welcomes when returning home from deployments.

"And let me be very clear, very clear, that it is because of you and your families that those of us serving in uniform today can accept those expressions of gratitude," said Bathalon, "and for that, I say thank you."

After his remarks, Bathalon presented coins from Brig. Gen. Harold Greene, NSSC commander, to all the WWII veterans in attendance.

Others offered words of praise for the veterans, as well.

"If you're in this room, you're at a VIP table," said Joshua Ostroff, Natick selectman. "Veterans Day ... is a day when we say thank you, but we need to show it every day in every way that we can for the people who have given so much to keep our country strong and safe."

Massachusetts State Senator Richard Ross thanked the veterans and the NSSC.

"I want to thank you, because I realize that you did it for every other person that's in this room, the communities that you live in," said Ross to the veterans. "You did it for us.

"I am proud to be here at Natick Soldier Systems (Center) just because of the systems that you develop that can keep our people safe."

State Representative David Linsky reminded everyone of the veterans' roles in safeguarding a democracy that allowed voters the freedom to cast ballots in the recent elections.

"That's a very special gift," Linsky said. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

An empty chair at a table set for one symbolized the veterans who couldn't attend to receive thanks.

"Let's remember all that we've left behind," said Ed Jolly, president of the Natick Veterans Council, "our prisoners of war and missing in action."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16