MEXICO — The auditorium of the Mountain Valley Middle School was packed Wednesday morning as residents and veterans observed Veterans Day with speeches, music and singing.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Edward J. Roach Jr. kicked off the ceremonies by inviting the Mountain Valley High School chorus to sing the national anthem. The Mountain Valley High School band performed the Armed Forces Medley, a compilation of songs from each branch of the service, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.

Veterans stood while their service song was played.

Teacher Michael Prescott told the audience before the performance, “I wouldn’t ask my students to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself, so I apologize to you all as I sit in with my students and perform on an instrument I don’t really know how to play — the saxophone.”

Members of the Rumford Association for the Advancement of Performing Arts sang “God Bless America” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

As part of the Veterans Day observance, veteran Don Roach drew the audience’s attention to a table at the front of the auditorium with an empty plate, a glass placed upside down, a slice of lemon, a salt shaker and a vase with a single red rose and ribbon.

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“This is the Missing Man Table,” he said. “It is a place of honor, and our way of symbolizing the members of our profession who are still missing. Some call them POWs, or MIAs, but we will call them brothers.”

The auditorium grew silent as Roach explained the significance of each item on the table.

“The table is set for one, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner against his enemies,” he said. The slice of lemon represents the bitter fate of the missing veteran, while the salt sprinkled on the bread plate symbolizes the tears shed by families as they wait for their loved one to return home.

“Remember,” he said.

A member of the American Legion Auxiliary struck a bell with a small hammer, sending a high-pitched ring throughout the auditorium.

Before introducing the celebration’s main speaker, Ed Roach Jr. asked the audience if anybody wished to say a few words.

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Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, stood up and said that it was a “privilege to be here to look and respect those of you who served your country.

“I never served in the military myself,” said the former Dixfield chief of police. “However, whenever I’m around a veteran, I’ve always made it a point to turn to them and thank them for their service.”

Pickett shared a story he read in a magazine recently.

“A veteran was in a restaurant, and when he went to the cash register to pay his bill, he was told by the waitress that somebody had already paid for him,” Pickett said. “When he asked why, the waitress said that the customer saw that the gentleman was a veteran, and wanted to pay him back for the debt he paid for his country.”

“I think that’s what we need to do as a state, and as a country,” Pickett said. “We need to treat our veterans the way they deserve to be treated, and I promise you that I’ll do everything I can do to support our veterans.”

Keynote speaker Tricia Thurston, finance officer and former American Legion Post 24 commander, read a quote from novelist C.S. Lewis: “All that we fear from all kinds of adversity is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.”

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“Most veterans, whether they experience a field-training exercise or combat, have distinct memories of ill lodging, discomfort, arbitrary rule and separation,” she said. “It comes part and parcel with military life. It’s why we hold veterans in such high esteem.”

Thurston mentioned the Thalys train attack in Paris, France, in August and how three American soldiers were responsible for bringing down the suspect in the terrorist attack.

“The news was saying that it was like something out of a movie,” Thurston said. “The truth is, there are heroes like this everyday protecting our country, and putting their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

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