Nashoba Publishing/William Bray
Veterans Stanley Jurga and Marcel Gionet ride in the parade leading to Whiteley Park.

SHIRLEY — American Legion Post 183 Chaplain Marcel Gionet stood in during the town’s Memorial Day celebrations as master of ceremonies for post Commander Athanace “Joe” Landry, who was in Belgium visiting World War II cites with other veterans.

In his opening prayer May 25, Gionet asked for remembrance of “departed comrades” who fought and died to preserve “cherished ideals,” such as liberty and law and order.

He introduced Honorary Parade Marshal Herman Arthur, who served 21 years in the Army and was legion commander three times.

He then turned the mic over to Selectman Enrico Cappucci, who spoke about the origin of Taps, ritual bugle calls that echo across the land on this solemn national holiday.

“It all began in 1862,” he said, in Harrison’s Landing, Va. Camped for the night, a Union captain heard agonized moans on the battlefield. He went out to bring the wounded man back to camp, but the man died. It was an enemy soldier and his own son, the story goes.

Studying music in the South when the Civil War started, his son had joined the Confederate Army in secret. His father asked for a military burial but was denied.

Finding a score in his son’s pocket, he asked if the bugler could play it. Permission was granted.

Cappucci acknowledged the story may be more legend than fact.

In a less dramatic version, a Civil War officer tells his bugler to play Taps each night rather than repeat the morning call-out.

“Either way there are stories behind Taps,” said Cappucci. And words that add more meaning to the familiar, haunting notes.

The keynote speaker at Memorial Day ceremonies held at the Town Common and Whiteley Park was Lt. Col. Steven Nott, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Devens.

His speech spotlighted the meaning of Memorial Day, which he said evolved from a “simple, loving act by a group of Mississippi women” after the Civil War.

To honor their war dead, they had gone to a local cemetery to lay flowers on their graves. Noting that Confederate and Union soldiers lay side by side, they put flowers on all the graves. A news correspondent wrote about the kind act and Decoration Day was born.

On that day, the Flag of the United States of America was flown at half-staff, flowers were placed on soldiers’ graves, and “words of remembrance and gratitude” were spoken, said Nott.

Now called Memorial Day, the tradition continues.

“Today, we pay tribute to our fallen heroes,” he said.

But hero is not a trivial term,” he said. A hero isn’t an “idol,” like a sports star, but someone courageous who sacrificed for others, he said.

“It may be spectacular to hit a ball over the wall, but it’s not an act of heroism,” said Nott. “There are heroes all around us,” such as parents, firefighters, and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve the nation in times of peace and war.

Shirley has “more than its share” of heroes, Nott said, including 336 men and women who served in World War II, 46 in Korea and 58 in Vietnam.

And Shirley citizens have served in conflicts since, he said.

Some heroes walk the streets. Others are buried here and overseas. They should all be honored, he said.

He quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not endure.”

On Memorial Day, we should all “take time to remember that,” said Nott.