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Placing flags on veterans’ graves a lesson in history

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PEPPERELL — Many will remember Memorial Day 2009 for the U.S. Air Force flyover, the poignant speeches, the sound of the rifles, the crystal clear skies and the breeze that fluttered hundreds of flags.

But for 60 or 70 Scouts and non-Scouts, parents and casual drop-ins, the three hours spent Saturday morning, May 30, placing flags on veterans’ graves may be the most memorable part of their weekend.

Flags decorated veteran’s graves in all the town’s cemeteries but perhaps no other ceremony carried more meaning than the one at Park Street Cemetery, the place where the Pepperell men who died on Breed’s Hill and their commander, Col. William Prescott, are buried.

This year was the first in what is hoped to become an annual event in which a wreath was formally placed at Prescott’s grave by the oldest Boy Scout and youngest Girl Scout present.

The morning began with a historical talk by Eleanor Gavazzi, former Prudence Wright Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution regent, who is nine generations removed from Benjamin Franklin.

Attired in period dress, Gavazzi, among other stories, related the historical significance of Prudence Wright, militia captain and patriot, who with fellow militia members captured a local British spy carrying documents detailing where the area’s powder supplies were stored.

The event occurred at the site of the landmark covered bridge, which in 1775 was merely a wooden walkway across the Nashua River.

Gavazzi held up a small gallon-sized wooden cask of the kind in which Pepperell’s powder supply was divvied up and carried to homes by the women. Should any one or more be stolen, the majority of the powder would be safe from British possession. She explained that the women provided security because the men were away fighting the British troops.

She had a reproduction two-pronged pitchfork to graphically display that the women of Pepperell were not to be fooled with. Later, a reproduction tin lantern was lit and placed at Wright’s grave to honor her patriotism.

The first flags to be placed were those before the Revolutionary War monument on Town Common. Each man’s name was recited aloud and Scout salutes rendered as their flag was placed under supervision of VFW Past Commander and present Quartermaster Tony Saboliauskas.

The act was repeated by small groups of parents and children, Scout leaders and Scouts as far as the eye could see into the most remote spots in the expansive cemetery. Participants were presented with a commemorative certificate by Gavazzi.

The stories, artifacts and grave sites solidified in the minds of young and old that Pepperell has a direct link with the events that helped start what would become America. It was and is a very patriotic community.

Out of sight of the body of participants, one or two children were seen kneeling before gravestones in several areas of the cemetery, their fingers tracing the inscriptions.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Saboliauskas said.

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