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Correspondent

GROTON — A quiet crowd gathered at the Groton Cemetery for Memorial Day ceremonies.

Some of the graves date back to the 1800s in this peaceful place, where giant oak trees line the paths and leafy branches shade the hillsides. Some of the weathered gray stones were decorated with small American flags.

Atop the grassy mound that is the cemetery’s highest point, armed services veterans and Groton firefighters who had marched in the Memorial Day parade, along with town officials and Boy Scouts from Troop 3, raised the American flag to the top of its white flagpole, then lowered it slowly to half-staff.

One by one, Groton veterans laid flowers on a white wooden cross behind the flagpole, commemorating service men and women from Groton who have died in all the nation’s wars. Sixteen wars were remembered with 16 solemn salutes, from the Revolutionary War to both world wars to the current conflict in Iraq.

Setting aside a day to lay wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers is a tradition that began after the Civil War. It was once called Decoration Day, said David Elliot, Commander of American Legion Post 55 in Groton. “Now, we observe Memorial Day,” he said.

The Reverend Paul L. Ring, pastor of Sacred Heart-St. James Church, gave the memorial prayer. “Let us walk humbly yet proudly to honor them,” he said, asking for God’s blessings for service men and women and their families. He ended with a phrase often repeated on Memorial Day — “Never forget.”

As wreaths were placed at significant sites along the parade route — the Old Burying Ground, the Firefighters Memorial, and the Korean War and Vietnam memorials at Sawyer Common — those words were a pledge. Never forget.

State Rep. Robert Hargraves, a Groton resident, read a poem by singer/songwriter Johnny Cash called “The Ragged Old Flag.” Dressed in a long black cape and tri-cornered hat, Hargraves marched along with the Minutemen in the parade.

The poem’s theme wraps up all of the nation’s conflicts and triumphs in the proud history of the American flag. The narrator sits down on a courthouse bench and converses with an old man, who tells the flag’s story, from the revolution to the world wars and beyond. Although the narrator starts by lamenting the flag’s “sorry shape,” he has second thoughts at the end. “She’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in,” he concludes.

Colonel Michael J. Graham, Commander of the 751st Electronic Systems Group at Hanscom Air Force Base, gave the memorial address, followed by a rifle volley salute and Taps with an echo. The haunting bugle calls, answering one another from a distance, echoed over the hill.

Adding a special note to the occasion, the 24-member Granite Statesmen Barbershop Chorus, from Nashua, N.H., sang three patriotic classics in flawless harmony — the Star-spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and God Bless America. This is the fifth year the group, directed by Norman Buerklin, has participated in Groton’s Memorial Day ceremonies.