HOLYOKE — Jesus M. Pereira sat on stage with dignitaries at the city Veterans’ Day commemoration Wednesday because he felt veterans shouldn’t have to sacrifice when it comes to medical care.
Pereira, 36, of Holyoke, was honored by the United Veterans of Holyoke as Veteran of the Year for founding Vet Air, a nonprofit that raises money for veterans’ plane tickets to medical appointments.
“And that’s what I’m going to continue to do with the last breath I have,” said Pereira, a sergeant in the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
Besides a plaque from the United Veterans, Pereira received proclamations from Mayor Alex B. Morse and state Rep. Aaron M. Vega, D-Holyoke.
“I’m honored and I’m humbled by this experience here today,” Pereira said.
Morse told the gathering that among city efforts on behalf of veterans was a breakfast last week that raised $30,000. The money will be used in a venture with a group called Revitalize CDC of Springfield to renovate the 39-41 Clark St. home of U.S. Air Force veteran Scott Leary, Morse said.
Revitalize CDC, or Revitalize Community Development, was founded in 1992. It uses money from donors and materials provided by suppliers, along with volunteer contractors, to rebuild homes, according to revitalizecdc.com. The Leary’s is the organization’s first project in Holyoke.
Work on the Leary’s roof and water heater was scheduled to be done Wednesday afternoon by volunteers, officials said.
The event at the War Memorial building at 310 Appleton St. began with the procession of officials to the stage and the marching of the color guard and veterans in uniform holding the American flag to the sounds of “Scotland the Brave” played by the Caledonian Pipe Band.
Americans have fought and died in wars defending the nation and its way of life for more than two centuries, said Ralph Lefebvre, chaplain of the United Veterans of Holyoke.
“Hundreds of thousands of them have paid the maximum cost of freedom with their very lives,” Lefebvre said.
City Council President Kevin A. Jourdain said that among the ways the city helps veterans is with a law that requires that municipal employees who are called to military service continue receiving their pay.
“So that their family is not at a financial loss. That is a law in the city of Holyoke,” Jourdain said.
He also noted city approval of the Purple Heart Trail signs to honor military men and women who were injured or died in combat that have been posted on Route 202.
The city also has had three U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, Jourdain said. John S. Mackenzie was so honored for service during World War I while U.S. Army Lt. Raymond O. Beaudoin and U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph F. Muller received the honor posthumously for sacrifices during World War II.
Fire Chief John A. Pond received the United Veterans of Holyoke’s Public Safety Award. Pond recalled taking a bus from Springfield to boot camp in Missouri in 1982 where he was trained in combat engineering to devise obstacle courses for the military and build bridges.
Being in the military taught him about leadership, honor, dignity and how to treat people, he said.
“And I understand that freedom is not free … Thank you for your service and thank you for being here,” Pond said.
Joan T. Cavanaugh, band leader at Holyoke High School, received the United Veterans of Holyoke’s Citizen of the Year Award. Cavanaugh said she was told she could be brief.
“I’m extremely honored to be the recipient of this award,” she said.
Vega said that for those like himself who didn’t serve in the military, other ways exist to help military personnel. One is the Stolen Valor Act, a bill he has cosponsored that would make it a crime to fake military service for financial gain, he said.
Events like Wednesday’s help him learn what veterans need from the state, he said.
“It’s an opportunity for me to … listen and advocate for you on Beacon Hill,” Vega said.
As he entered the War Memorial, Councilor Peter R. Tallman pulled a yellowed news clipping from his pocket. The article discussed the death of his uncle Clark Tallman in Saipan, an island in the Western Pacific Ocean, in 1942 during World War II. He was 21.
“I have to think of him. It’s a special day,” said Tallman, a U.S. Army and Massachusetts Air National Guard veteran.