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Salute to vets; Parade, breakfast honor soldiers' service.

Byline: Samantha Allen

WORCESTER -- Out on the sidewalk in front of the Veterans Inc. building, Luis Flores handed out bags of popcorn to passers-by as they gathered for the Veterans Day Parade.

On an unseasonably warm Tuesday, Mr. Flores watched over a tray of poppy seed muffins and recounted his history with the military. He served as an aviation technician in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 42-year-old from Atlanta served from 1996 to 2005. When he retired, he found himself homeless in the Boston area.

"They should do this every day for veterans,'' Mr. Flores said, taking a break from opening up paper snack bags. "Or at least twice a week. ... We should let them know we're here and the services are here.''

Veterans Inc. provides housing to homeless veterans locally, as well as assistance through its various programs for veterans and their families. Tuesday morning, the facility hosted a pancake breakfast, with free food for all who arrived in honor of the holiday.

Mr. Flores was housed by Veterans Inc. and said thanks to the organization's efforts, he now has a full-time home. He said he was helping out Tuesday to give back and show his appreciation to all who helped him.

Elaine Gemma, a 75-year-old Worcester native and U.S. Air Force veteran, sat at one of the breakfast tables inside the building with friends. She recalled her experience as a nurse for nine years.

"It was fun. We had such a good time, you almost forgot about Vietnam, until you saw the guys,'' she said. "I never would have left Worcester if I didn't join the Air Force.''

Ms. Gemma joined the military when she was 25 years old.

Later Tuesday morning, a parade procession went down Grove Street, with hundreds of people lining the road, cheering and clapping, many with tiny American flags in hand.

Charisse Lasorella of Worcester brought along her children, Gianna Cirilo, 3, and 16-month-old Alonzo, to show them what Veterans Day is all about.

"(Gianna) asked me, 'Mommy, what's Veterans Day?' She didn't understand,'' Ms. Lasorella said, noting her children had become enthralled with the holiday. "I just asked her if she wanted to leave to go see the armored trucks and she said, 'Mommy, there's still more.' ''

After the parade, a ceremony was held inside the Veterans Inc. Historical Armory's Wheaton Hall with Mayor Joseph Petty and City Manager Ed Augustus. They both thanked the attending veterans for their service.

Mr. Augustus shared the history of the man for whom the hall was named, Cpl. Homer J. Wheaton. Mr. Wheaton, who had been a sports reporter for the Evening Gazette, was killed during World War I trying to clear a live grenade from his platoon area. He grabbed the grenade inside a cave and saved others who could have been killed.

U.S. Army veteran Gabriel P. Nutter of Leominster spoke to the hundreds in the room about suicide among veterans and services available to help those suffering. Mr. Nutter is regional team leader of the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans' Empowerment program. He said in the United States, approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day. He said that number has risen substantially since 2006, when he first joined the Army and it was reported at 18 per day.

Mr. Nutter was joined by his yellow Labrador retriever Sammy, a service dog who helps him with hearing loss and post-traumatic stress. Sammy also walks around with him to meet veterans in need and has saved lives, according to the veteran.

Mr. Nutter said Veterans Day means one thing to him -- camaraderie, and reconnecting with that.

"This is the first time I put this uniform on in years,'' Mr. Nutter said, tugging at his camouflaged sleeve. "When I put it on, I was excited I fit into it, and then, I felt that camaraderie again. ... I felt that I was part of that brotherhood again. I got goose bumps for the first time in a long time, being back in that community again, here in Worcester.''

Contact Samantha Allen at Follow her on Twitter@SAllen_89
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Allen, Samantha
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 12, 2014
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