SWANZEY — Samir Habiby stood before those who had gathered in the West Swanzey Community Church on Monday, where he preached the shared faith of duty and sacrifice.
While Samir Habiby is an Episcopal priest, he wasn’t speaking so much about God as he was about America, and the shared creed put into practice by veterans. The retired U.S. Navy chaplain is one of the Purple Heart recipients honored by Swanzey as part of the town’s new effort.
“We wear the Purple Heart to honor those who could never wear it, so that they would be remembered,” Habiby said.
Swanzey is now designated as a Purple Heart Community after selectmen voted last month to adopt the resolution brought before them by Habiby’s wife, Kathy Habiby. Swanzey is home to 13 Purple Heart recipients, Kathy Habiby said.
“If this goes well, hopefully we’ll find more,” she said.
Kathy Habiby wanted Swanzey to adopt the Purple Heart designation partly to make sure her husband saw the honors. Samir Habiby volunteered for the Navy in 1966, soon after becoming an American citizen. He saw action in two tours of duty in Vietnam, being awarded the Purple Heart as well as two Bronze Stars. Kathy Habiby said her husband was put up for two more Purple Hearts, but he turned them down because accepting them might mean he would have to leave active duty.
Samir Habiby said the award itself signifies the sacrifices that men and women have been making since the Revolutionary War to keep America free.
“That really is the great spirituality of America,” Samir Habiby said.
Purple Heart recipient Jim McConnell, another Vietnam War veteran, came out to Veterans Day events because he wants to serve as a living reminder of the stakes of sending the military overseas to fight.
“People don’t weigh it sufficiently,” McConnell said.
John Bolles, another Vietnam War veteran, said events like Monday’s ceremony are a late welcome for many like him who never got recognition for their service and who felt unappreciated.
“It’s a welcome we never got when we came home,” Bolles said.
The men and women who served in the Vietnam War acted bravely and made sacrifices that should be honored, he said.
“There’s nothing good about war,” Bolles said. “We were doing the right thing.”
Samir Habiby knows that his faith in America, his faith in the American freedoms that need to be protected, comes with a dreadful cost.
“We remember all those who died in battle,” Samir Habiby said.
“For me as a chaplain, several hundred I had to give last rites to. I can’t sleep at nights so often.”