During a Veterans Day ceremony in Greenlawn, Dennis Madden remarked on how far fewer Americans have family members in the military today than a few decades ago — and how that affects our perceptions of veterans.
In World War II, when, according to experts, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population was in the armed forces, “everyone knew somebody who served,” said Madden, commander of American Legion Post 1244 in Greenlawn. “Everyone knew somebody who died.” Today, less than one-half percent of the population is in the military, and their sacrifices are less widely recognized, said Madden, 70, who served stateside during the Vietnam War.
“Let’s remember the people who have given so much of their better times, not only on this day but every day, when we encounter them,” he urged the Saturday morning crowd of about 200. “A simple ‘thank you for your service’ goes such a long way.”
The ceremony, attended by dozens of veterans in uniform and elected officials, featured the traditional laying of wreaths at the foot of a veterans’ monument at Greenlawn Memorial Park, the singing of “God Bless America” and the playing of taps.
It began precisely at 11 a.m., on the 99th anniversary of the armistice ending fighting in World War I, which went into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
As veterans were saying their goodbyes after the ceremony, Bob Santo reflected on how the low percentage of Americans serving in the military can create “a very lonely experience” for those returning from service, because there are far fewer opportunities for a type of bonding that can only occur between veterans.
“There’s very little connection between civilian society and the military,” said Santo, 73, of Huntington Station, who served in Korea and Thailand during the Vietnam War. “It makes it very difficult for any military person now, who comes home to a civilian society that doesn’t know what they’ve gone through.”
Victor Ramondetta, 74, of Northport believes there is less willingness to sacrifice.
“For kids today, it’s about going to school and getting a job that pays a lot of money: ‘Let somebody else get their foot blown off,’ ” said Ramondetta, who had a Purple Heart patch on his leather jacket, awarded after he was shot during a firefight in Vietnam, where he served as an Army machine-gunner.
“Everyone looks out for themselves,” he said, “not like in World War II, when everybody had to fight or they’d be speaking German.”