GROTON -- Early showers and gray clouds cleared just in time for the Memorial Day parade and accompanying ceremonies.
Although attendance was sparse when this year's parade pushed off from Legion Field Monday morning, people had begun to gather as marchers arrived at their first stop at the fireman's memorial on Main Street. By the time the parade entered Hollis Street, crowds lined both sides of the street.
Clouds broke up and hot, brilliant sunshine showed down when the Groton Minuteman Company reached the Burying Ground and lined up for the traditional multi-gun salute to the town's fallen heroes of the Revolution.
The next stop was Sawyer Common where a wreath was laid for local lads who had served in 20th-century wars.
There, Rep. Sheila Harrington and state Sen. Eileen Donahue spoke a few words.
Harrington urged those listening not to forget those who "watch and wait" while soldiers are off to war, some to die "to bring peace on earth" and "goodwill to men."
Those who did not return, paid for it at a steep price, leaving an empty space among family and friends. Harrington asked everyone to think of those veterans and their families all the year through and not just on a single special day.
Echoing Harrington's statements, Donahue noted specifically the sacrifice of Groton's own William Woitowicz who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
"We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Billy and all the others who sacrificed," said Donohue.
Reorganizing itself, the parade continued down Hollis Street and made its way up to a hilltop overlooking the Groton Cemetery.
There, keynote speaker Capt. Richard LaBranche, reminded the hundreds gathered atop the highest point of the cemetery where a flag at half mast still flew proudly, that freedom isn't free.
"They set the standards that inspire us all," said LaBranche of the nation's fallen soldiers. "But this should not be a time of mourning but of celebrating their memory."
A former naval pilot and currently director of the Navy's Maritime Advanced Warfighting School at the Naval War College, LaBranche logged many hours in the cockpit of naval fighters operating off the decks of aircraft carriers and flying the unfriendly skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Freedom is a gift from our Creator and should be protected at all costs," LaBranche told listeners from the hilltop recalling the famous dictum that "for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." "Thank God, we have a nation of do-ers."
Recalling the human cost of World War II and the upcoming anniversary of D-Day, LaBranche honored those veterans and the "esprit de corps that has echoed across time.
"Such service gives us pride and the knowledge that when put to the test we will not fail," concluded LaBranche.
Service that has created a history that needs to be communicated to the young, said LaBranche in a separate interview.
"We need to continue to recognize Memorial Day because it's important to show the younger generation that freedom isn't free," said LaBranche. "Someone paid for it. And some made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up the chance to see their homeland or loved ones again."
"I think it's great that we continue to celebrate Memorial Day," observed Pepperell resident Doug Guimond. "We need to remember that our veterans sacrificed much to keep us safe. It's a sombre day that's also a celebration of their service."
"They gave so much to us that observance of Memorial Day is the least we should do," added Groton resident Joan Guimond.
And if LaBranche was worried about whether the younger generation was learning the message of history, he need not have been concerned if local Scouts are any test.
"Marching in the Memorial Day parade is good because it's to remember the veterans who died for us," said 10-year-old Matthew Egan of Webelos Pack 11.
"I like being part of the parade because you get to see people in town that you didn't know were veterans," added 12-year-old David Henderson, a Boy Scout in Troop 1. "They're really cool when they come out for the parade and we can celebrate."
"It's really fun to march," admitted 10-year-old Chelsea Callahan, Girl Scout. "But also, you get to remember people who were in the military and some who died for us."