GROTON — Blue skies and plenty of sun met residents as they lined the streets Monday for the annual Memorial Day ceremony and parade.
The ceremonies featured honored guests and solemn prayers for servicemen past and present at a number of sites in town dedicated to their memory.
“I think it’s a very good idea to get together and just celebrate Memorial Day,” said resident Judy Babbit. “It’s a day to reflect and recall what Memorial Day is really all about especially with the war going on right now.”
“I’m a Vietnam veteran and I think it’s a good idea to pay tribute to those fallen servicemen who died for the values upon which this country is based,” agreed Nick Roberts, who was dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier and marched in the parade as a member of the Groton Minuteman Company.
The Minuteman Company was among the many civic groups that marched in the parade which kicked off the town’s summer season. The parade route began on the grounds of Legion Hall and wound around to Main Street for a wreath-laying ceremony at the fireman’s 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 and 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.
“We really need to honor our veterans,” said Selectman Anna Eliot, who joined her colleagues in leading up the parade. “I remember marching in the parade when I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. The parade is a wonderful tradition and I hope that everyone supports it and encourages the activity it provides.”
At the Groton Cemetery, Boy Scouts raised a flag to half mast and veterans took turns laying single stems of flowers in honor of those who made the sacrifice in the defense of their country in wars spanning from the Revolution to the Spanish-American to the Civil War to current offensives in the Iraq and Afghanistan.
Monday’s Memorial Day remembrance was the last year in a five-year cycle in which each branch of the military service takes a turn in the spotlight. This year, grand marshal Louis Henry reminded listeners of the role the U.S. Navy has played in the ongoing war on terror.
Henry, a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy’s Class of 2012 and a graduate of Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, recounted the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole while it was anchored in the port of Aden in Yemen and the 17 sailors who lost their lives in that incident.
Unheeded at the time, the attack proved to be a prelude al-Qaida’s attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, which killed 2,995 people.
Although Henry went on to recount the Navy’s role on different fronts of the war on terror, it was its other missions, including bringing succor to the needy in places like Haiti that should be remembered as well.
“On Memorial Day we remember the countless Americans who have fought with determination in our Navy to protect our freedoms,” said Henry. “Groton-Dunstable has a great diversity of service members from all the United States military branches. Marching with us today were heroes who fought as far back as the second World War. As the parade concludes its rotation through the armed services, I remind everyone of the dedication to our country that all the branches have provided throughout history. We all serve under the same flag.”
Preceding Henry, the Rev. Guiseppe Mattei of the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church opened the remembrance ceremony with a prayer calling the day a time of “reflection and lamentation.” State Rep. Robert Hargraves followed with a reminder that what has always held the country together was the flag with its 50 stars and 13 stripes.
“The flag gives us the rich feeling of having taken part in all the conflicts and wars that we’ve found ourselves in,” said Hargraves entreating his listeners to remember the sacrifices of the nation’s soldiers and never allow them to be ill treated the way they were in the days of Vietnam.
Veterans like David Horsch, who traveled from Merrimack, N.H. to attend Monday’s parade, were more than appreciative of Hargraves sentiments as well as all the planning and preparations that went into organizing the day’s events.
“Being a 24-year veteran, first in the Army and then the Air Force, I think it’s a great idea to hold events like this in order to show support for our troops and the work they do in defending this great country,” he said.