‘Every town should have a Memorial Day parade …’

Nashoba Publishing/Dianne Bunis
Surrounding the common at the FirefighterÕs Memorial, the parade pauses as Capt. Joe Bassett and Lt. James Emslie Jr. lay a wreath.

GROTON — Thousands of residents both young and old celebrated Memorial Day last Monday morning as they lined the route of the town’s annual parade and then stayed on for the more solemn ceremonies held later on the high ground at the Groton Cemetery.

“I think that every town should have a Memorial Day parade because I don’t think we should forget why we have a Memorial Day,” said West Groton resident Geoff Kromer. “Memorial Day shouldn’t be seen as just another day off from work. It’s important to remember the sacrifices people made in order to have this day in the first place.”

Led by the Groton Minuteman Company, the holiday was kicked off Monday with a parade that began on the grounds of Legion Hall and wound around to Main Street for a wreath-laying ceremony at the firefighters’ memorial before turning back down Hollis Street and pausing at the Old Burying Ground for a similar tribute in honor of the town’s Revolutionary War dead.

With thousands of residents lining the streets, clapping and shouting thanks to veterans as they walked past, the parade continued up Hollis Street to Sawyer Common for a recognition of the sacrifices made by Groton’s Korean and Vietnam War veterans before finally ending atop the high ground overlooking the Groton Cemetery.

There, veterans took turns laying single flowers in honor of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country in wars ranging from the Revolution to the Spanish-American to the Civil War to the War on Terror.

Among those laying flowers were family members, including David and Lauren, the parents of Sgt. Zachary Tellier, a Groton resident who was killed last year in Afghanistan.

“I am truly privileged to speak today in remembrance of the brave men and women of our armed forces who, through the centuries, have so selflessly served our nation and so valiantly sacrificed their lives for our freedoms,” said the day’s keynote speaker, Col. Michael Belcher, commander of the Marine Corps 25th Regiment, based at Fort Devens. “I am honored to recognize America’s defenders who repeatedly placed themselves in harm’s way to protect the peaceful people of our nation and the world; to safeguard liberty from those who would enslave it, and allow democracy to flourish under the protective cover of their raised shields.”

Belcher likened the events of Sept. 11, 2001 to those of 1775 when the enemy brought war to America’s peaceful shores forcing the nation’s citizen-farmers and shopkeepers to take up arms at the battles of Lexington and Concord. And as Massachusetts’ Capt. John Parker declared atop Breed’s Hill, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

The same kind of challenge, said Belcher, was issued by the new terrorist enemy at the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 where 241 servicemen were killed in a suicide attack. It was the opening action of a prolonged terrorist campaign against the free world but one that the United States, slow to anger, would not take seriously until the attacks of Sept. 11.

The Beirut attack, Belcher reminded the thousands of residents gathered silently on that sun-splashed hill at the Groton Cemetery, was a new “shot heard ’round the world the first shot in the global War on Terror in which we are now engaged.

“The attack heralded a new generation of warfare, irregular warfare in which the peaceful people of the world and their peace-keepers are the targets of indiscriminate violence and generational warfare in which ideological tyrants attempt to oppress religious freedoms and disrupt democratic rule.”

Belcher, a former commander of the Marine contingent in Karbala, Iraq, concluded his comments with a prayer that the nation honor the memory of its fallen heroes with a plea for “the strength to safeguard our nation in this time of turmoil and threat; the stamina to uphold our nation’s values against a foe who holds life as meaningless and freedom cheap; the wisdom to use diplomacy when able, and force when required; and for a time when all will live in peace.”

“I think having an event like this is great,” said resident Dan Rasmussen. “I think it’s important to remember all those who served and having a special day set aside like this is a great way for all of us to get together as a community. I think that in this day of commuting and cell phones, we tend to forget the sacrifices that have made our current lifestyle possible. Events like this help us remember and bring us together again.”