TOWNSEND -- Veterans, officials and members of the North Middlesex Regional High School community gave thanks to those who have served the country on Friday, and paid their respects to members of the Armed Forces who died while serving.

Speakers addressed a packed auditorium on the meaning of sacrifice and the importance of honoring the nation's veterans.

"The wonderful thing about our veterans and the people who serve is that they volunteer to look death in the face, and they do it because they believe in something," Principal Christine Battye said to open the ceremonies.

Marine Cpl. Kevin Hayes spoke about the meaning of sacrifice, by those who served, their families and those who lost their lives for the cause. This sacrifice, he said, has made him even more appreciative of the safety, stability and opportunity he has had in the United States.

"It's amazing to be an American and live in this country, even with all the problems we have," Hayes said.

Vietnam War Marine Corps. veteran Anthony Saboliauskas used his time at the podium to rail against the federal government for failing to provide timely health care to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"There's always been something with the VA, they just don't want to look, they don't want to know," Saboliauskas said.

"I'm disappointed and I think you should be too," he added. A standing ovation followed his remarks.

Marine Sgt. Adam Taylor invited students to join the fundraising efforts of the Middlesex Global War on Terror Committee, which is working toward raising $100,000 to construct a monument in Pepperell honoring those who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The committee is about one-tenth of the way to its goal.

Another speaker, Capt. Devon Messecar of the Air Force, urged students to give back to their communities. She told her story of enlisting in the armed forces after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when she was a senior in high school. At that time, she said, lots of graduating seniors were choosing to enlist.

"What I want to leave you with and challenge you with, especially you juniors and seniors out there, is that whatever you decide to do, that you find a way to choose to understand what's going on in the world and find a way to give back to your community. It will be so much more rewarding and give you so much more as far as memories and experiences and just overall excitement in your life," Messecar said.

State Rep. Sheila Harrington reminded the students and teachers in the audience to be appreciative of the sacrifices made on their behalf.

"We must give thanks that there are still those among us who will take on the heroic task of trying to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men."

Student Council member Bailey Delaney presented wreaths to representatives from the towns of Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend.

The North Middlesex concert choir, chamber choir, concert band and trumpeters performed the music for the ceremony, including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps songs, the national anthem and "Taps."