A couple hundred people packed the VFW Post 5390 in Common Fence Point Saturday morning to honor veterans, as well as celebrate the grand reopening of the hall that strives to give back to the community.
PORTSMOUTH — A couple hundred people packed the VFW Post 5390 in Common Fence Point Saturday morning to honor veterans, as well as celebrate the grand reopening of the hall that strives to give back to the community.
During a Veterans Day ceremony that is normally held at Town Hall, guest speaker Capt. Mark L. Turner, U.S. Navy (Ret.) praised the efforts of the VFW and citzenry — including the Common Fence Point Improvement Association (CFPIA), business community and other volunteers — for working together over the past several months in renovating the old building. He tied the improvements to this year’s theme for Veterans Day: “Veterans Still Serving Their Communities.”
“Your post embodies everything it means to be a part of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It represents how civilians and veterans can combine to be an unstoppable team,” Turner said.
Ceremonies, which also involved American Legion Post 18, were held upstairs on Saturday, as work continues in the basement of the building, where the post used to host Memorial Day events. The event featured the dedication of a new canteen in honor of Staff Sgt. Christopher Potts of Tiverton, who died in Iraq on Oct. 3, 2004 — his birthday — as his unit was conducting traffic control operations and enemy forces attacked them using small arms fire. Several members of his family were in attendance.
“He was a father, a husband, and a member of this VFW Post,” said Victor Shaeffer of the VFW, who led the ceremony. “As we open it to the public for the first time today, take a moment to remember its namesake — a true hero who gave his all to his country.”
The snappy looking canteen features a bar, pool table, television sets, jukebox and more. VFW members have said the bar, which is open to the public, is key to the economic survival of the post.
“Remodeling this post is proof that you continue to serve,” Turner said of veterans. “Veterans who lead this community are first responders and shape minds of young lives. You make a difference. So I stand here today simply as a grateful American, and represent all those who don’t have the honor to speak in front of their heroes.”
Turner is a career Naval officer who serves as director of the Naval Staff College at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. He’s also senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Rhode Island.
He thanked family members of service men and women for their support and patience. “There’s a saying: ‘Love knows not its own death until the hour of separation.’ Anyone who’s experienced military life understands how accurate that is. Thank you to all of you who waited for their service member to come up from deployment or time away. Service is a team sport,” he said.
Turner also thanks everyone who helped in the building renovation. “I believe your impact will be generational — not just for the post, but the entire community. It will serve as a beacon of hope for Portsmouth and Common Fence Point. May it continue to support those who served, those in need, and continue to bring this community closer.”
All of the veterans who attended, he said, have been given a special gift — one they may not fully realize.
“There are people right now, at this very second, who wonder whether their lives made a difference. How blessed are you to not have to waste a single second of your time wondering if that applies to you,” Turner said. “We all live under the umbrella of freedom because you chose to raise your right hand and be a small part of something larger than yourself. All of us here are forever grateful.
“I’m aware that in this room there are many who have tested the culinary arts of MRE (meals ready to eat), carried a seabag, put on combat boots, shot at an enemy, held a dying friend. Each one of us have our personal stories, tragedies — some held closer and tighter than others. Let’s not forget the many scars suffered from veterans — not just those that are seem, but those that are unseen and never heal. So many in this nation know nothing of what you know, yet each one of you have shown unmatched resilience. Instead of letting past challenges defeat you, you rose to give back to your community.”
Making ‘thank you’ meaningful
Turner said there are two words with eight letters — “Thank you” — that are often spoken without much thought.
“When do two words, eight letters earn their stripes as deep gratitude? It happens when we put action behind the words, much like what this post has done on behalf of your community — when we say it because we mean it,” he said. “This nation opens up its arms and hearts and honors your service and sacrifice this Veterans Day. We are blessed to have you come home alive. Not all came home whole; many are not home yet. The enormity of your sacrifice cannot be overstated. So how do we dare believe that two words and eight letters is enough? It isn’t enough to say it; we must be it. Let us all live lives of gratitude. If we do that, our thank-yous turn into action.”
After Schaeffer and others handed out citations to many veterans and citizens — either to thank them for their service, for working on the building upgrades, or both — the festivities moved outside for a wreath-laying by the garden, and a few songs performed by the Portsmouth High School Marching Band.
Later that night, the public was invited back for a free concert by Neil and the Vipers.