PEPPERELL -- On Friday Nov. 2, nearly every table in the cafeteria of the Pepperell Senior Center was filled for first anniversary of the monthly Pepperell Army Community Covenant's Veteran's Breakfast. At the back of the room, however, one table was notably empty.
The tiny table, clad in a white tablecloth, was set with a single untouched place setting. On the plate sat a small pile of salt and a slice of lemon. Standing by its side was a wine glass, resting upside down. In the middle of the table, one red rose stood in full bloom next to an unlit candle.
The table was set up by Police Patrol Officer Fabrizio Vestri, a veteran of the Army Reserve and the guest speaker for the morning's breakfast. The table setting was part of a tradition at meals served during his training and, later, during his deployment to Kuwait.
"(The table) symbolizes the fallen and missing soldiers," said Vestri.
Vestri explained the back story of the place setting to the audience. During each meal served throughout his time in the Army Reserves, a ceremony was conducted, the symbolic meaning of each item recited: The lemon slice represents the bitterness of going to war, the salt represents the tears shed for the fallen soldier and the candle is the light of hope, Vestri said.
"The hope that the missing come home and the sacrifices of those fallen have not gone in vain."
The tablecloth represents the purity of the soldier's intentions. The red rose serves dual symbolism: for the blood spilt in sacrifice and for the families and friends of the lost soldier. The inverted flask is for the soldiers who will never again be able to toast with their comrades.
"At the end of the ceremony we give a toast, but don't drink from the glass," said Vestri.
Vestri spoke on behalf of the Pepperell Police Department, who sponsored the breakfast. One year earlier, they had taken on the same role during first veteran's breakfast.
"They were kickoff sponsors for the event," said Covenant Chairman Stephen Themelis. "It didn't take too much persuading."
Several regulars came out for the event, veterans and civilians alike.
"Any time I'm off of work, I come for the first Friday of the month," said Navy veteran Jim Sennett. "It's good to rub shoulders with the other vets. You hear a lot of interesting stories."
Prior to Vestri's address to the audience, Themelis and Chief David Scott took the opportunity to make several announcements. Starting in December, said Themelis, the veteran's breakfasts will begin taking place on Saturday mornings rather than Fridays.
"We have 675 veterans in this town and we usually get 30 or 40 to this event so we'd like to reach out and get a few more," said Themelis.
Scott said the Police Department had recently installed a prescription drug box in the police station.
"Now you don't have to wait for the DEA 'take-back' days," he said. "You can drop your prescriptions in there and we'll dispose of them for you."
The department has also recently subscribed to Nixle. Residents can text "Pepperell PD" to 888-777 or sign up at Nixle.com to receive free text message alerts from the department.
Following the announcements, Vestri took the floor. After serving on the department for nearly nine years, Vestri decided to enlist in the Reserves, leaving for training in Georgia at the age of 38.
"I wanted to do something more ... serve my country in a broader scope," he said.
After serving five months maintaining computers for his unit, Vestri hopped on a plane to come home to his family in Pepperell, landing at Logan Airport at 11 p.m. Shortly after landing, Vestri got the call alerting him that his unit was being mobilized; at 7 a.m. the next morning, he was on a flight back to catch up with his unit, serving nearly a year away on deployment.
"It was a great opportunity. I won't say I had a great time because it's not a great time. It's terrible, as a lot of you know," he said. "I saw things I wouldn't see otherwise, and hopefully will never see again."
But there were some positives, like swimming in the Persian Gulf. The best thing, he said: "We left with 153 people and came back with 153 people. We didn't lose anyone."
Vestri, who spent two and a half years in the military, was humble about his own military experiences. He thanked the 20-year veterans for their service to their families, community and country and said he was honored to address them in honor of Veteran's Day.
"I don't think there should be one set day to think of veterans," he said. "We should think of them every day."