HARVARD — Hovering haze and the faint, acrid smell of smoke from forest fires in northern Quebec did not mar Memorial Day ceremonies in town Monday morning. Despite the haze, it was an idyllic scene on a warm, sunny spring day. People dotted the grassy Common as the church tower clock chimed 10 o’clock and the Nashoba Regional High School Concert Band played patriotic tunes. Kids turned somersaults on the hill.
But the outing had a solemn purpose. This was the central stop on the Memorial Day parade route.
After marching down the hill from Town Hall, circling the Common and wreath-laying ceremonies at the war memorials, the parade continued to the Center Cemetery to decorate the graves of war veterans with bright red geraniums. The next stop was the Common, where the U.S. flag hung at half mast.
Master of Ceremonies Duane Barber said he was filling in for Steve Cronin, who took over from Paul Johnson, who coordinated the event for many years. He introduced guest speaker David King, of Lunenburg. A Worcester native, King was an ROTC scholarship student at Washington and St. Louis universities. In military service since 1967, he was a combat commander in Vietnam.
“As we stand here today, many of us who served remember our comrades who died in battle,” he said, as do their families and friends. Others who attended the ceremony came to honor them, too, he said, in gratitude for their sacrifice.
For some, Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend, he said, but for those who remember the honored dead of the nation’s wars, it will always hold the same solemn significance.
King recalled a friend named Bruce who served with him. The two went to Vietnam on the same plane, he said. Bruce didn’t make it back. King said he often thinks of what the world would be like with him still in it.
But the wars continue. “For centuries we’ve fought to vanquish foes with different views,” he said. “No one wants a war,” he said, and no single government causes them. “We ultimately serve out of a sense of duty, and citizen soldiers serve at the behest of their commanders in chief. We go where they send us,” he said. No matter what.
Remember that of those honored today, he said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice.”
His prayer was for them and for an end to war, “for the day when it will no longer be required of our sons and daughters.”
Here and now, Americans have a duty to remember and honor the “valor and devotion of our fallen comrades,” he said, those who rest here and others across the sea. The values they died to protect — human rights, liberty, high ideals — must be nurtured.
“We must be firm, humble, unselfish in purpose,” as a tribute to their sacrifice, he said.
After a last wreath was placed and the National Anthem played, the ceremony ended with special recognition to members of the “Greatest Generation” who were there.
“Thank you for your faithful service and continued remembrance” of fallen comrades, Paul Johnson said. He noted two among the “newest generation,” Eric Mitchell of Oak Hill Road and his friend Chris Smith of Oakland, Calif. Both are members Bravo Company, Second Battalion, 30th Infantry and are soon to deploy to Afghanistan, he said.
The parade then proceeded to Still River and Bellevue Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony, then on to Poor Farm Road, where a wreath was placed for a Union soldier who died of smallpox and had to be buried far from his Civil War comrades.