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Military veterans feted in State House, at parades

The Veterans Day parade passed Boston Common as Francesca and Isabella Cohoon watched.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

The Veterans Day parade passed Boston Common as Francesca and Isabella Cohoon watched.

They lit a candle for prisoners of war and those killed in action. They presented flowers to relatives of fallen service members. And they listened quietly as a soldier played taps, the somber notes echoing through the State House’s ornate Memorial Hall.

Veterans, current military service members, and their families were acknowledged and honored Monday morning by top state officials at a Beacon Hill ceremony marking Veterans Day.

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“Thank you for your sacrifice to protect the freedom of us all,” Governor Deval Patrick told a crowd of more than 150 people, many in uniform. “I’m humbled to be in your presence.”

Later, in the afternoon, Boston held its annual Veterans Day parade downtown.

Sporting an 1800s-style blue coat and a rifle, Clarence Hubbard, 58, was part of a contingent of reenactors memorializing the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first African-American regiment organized in the North during the Civil War, he said.

Hubbard marches in many parades, but participating in Monday’s event was unique and emotional, he said.

“As a vet of Iraq and Afghanistan, to me, today has a different meaning,” said Hubbard, who served in the Army from 1972 to 2010. He said he was thinking about his friends who did not return from the battlefield.

After all the ceremonies are over, he said, “you still sit in reflection of the guys who are no longer here.”

At the State House event in the morning, two military veterans in the Patrick administration, Secretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee and John W. Polanowicz, the health and human services secretary, spoke about the efforts the state has made to bolster aid to those who served.

Also during the event, France’s consul general in Boston, Fabien Fieschi, presented the French Legion of Honor medal to two American World War II veterans who served in France.

In the middle of the almost two-hour ceremony, Patrick was given a slightly worn Red Sox baseball cap by military officers. On a visit to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, Patrick had given the cap to a commander in Afghanistan, who passed it down to subsequent commanders there.

“What better day to bring it back than during this season of Boston Strong, Red Sox Strong,” said Major General L. Scott Rice, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, as Lieutenant Colonel Tom Stewart and others presented the cap back to a smiling governor.

Patrick later told reporters he had given baseball caps to troops overseas but ran out.

The one cap that had been bequeathed from one commander to the next came full circle, returning to the governor, which, he said, “was really pretty touching and meaningful.”

Treasurer Steven Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley, both gubernatorial hopefuls, attended the ceremony, but did not have speaking roles.

During a musical interlude, Grossman, who served in the Army Reserve, sang along as the 215th Army Band of the Massachusetts Army National Guard played the Army’s official song, “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

Grossman on Monday said that if he becomes governor, he will ask the Legislature to elevate the state’s secretary of veterans’ services to a full cabinet position.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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