AYER — Children darted to cover their ears as rifles fired off three volleys, followed by the playing of taps, as Ayer paused to remember the nation’s war dead on Saturday.
Memorial Day ceremonies were marked by graveside services at both Woodlawn and St. Mary’s cemeteries, followed by a parade down Main Street.
Tribute was paid to Gold Star Mother Zelda Moore and Gold Star Wife Rose Brennan.
American Legion Post 139 Commander and U.S. Navy veteran BettyAnn Matozel also paid tribute to Elizabeth Watts, who passed away on Feb. 10. Watts, a lifelong Ayer resident, was a Gold Star Mother and prior multiyear participant in the annual Memorial Day observances.
Matozel said the day was important to honor the men and women who died in service to the nation and who have “dropped their burdens by the wayside of life and have gone to their eternal rest.” Matozel called on the crowd assembled to “renew our pledge of loyalty to our country and flag.”
As a constituent services representative for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, U.S. Army Reservist Master Sgt. Sam Jonnson of Dartmouth said it’s crucial to reach out to families of soldiers who’ve perished while serving the country.
“You heard mentions of our Gold Star Families previously. It’s very important that we all get out there and meet those people,” said Jonnson. “They’ve suffered a lot. Think of them as your own. They’re your family now.”
Stephen Silvestri, the vice-commander of the Massachusetts Department of the American Legion, was the keynote speaker. He received a cheer when he said, “Thankfully, this year U.S. Navy Seals found and killed bin Laden.”
Silvestri paid tribute to the thousands who have given their lives in the “Global War on Terrorism.” He cited two examples, recalling the valor shown by Marine Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, who, while patrolling a barracks housing 50 Marines in Ramadi, Iraq, put themselves directly in harm’s way when trying to stop a truck loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosives.
While Nearby Iraqi police fled, the Marines, “knowing that they only had seconds to live, fired their weapons nonstop and died in the ensuing blast … Their actions saved countless lives.” Silvestri said security camera footage later showed “the men did not even step aside but actually leaned into the danger” showing the soldiers “died not just for their country, but their comrades standing with them.”
Silvestri also talked of 29-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Lance Vogeler, killed on Oct. 1 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The Army Ranger was serving his eighth tour in Afghanistan after serving four tours in Iraq. “Twelve tours in just over nine years since 9/11,” noted Silvestri.
Vogeler left behind a wife and two children, and posthumously received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal. “He gave until he simply had nothing more to give,” said Silvestri.
Circling back to the bin Laden mission, Silvestri said the “military demonstrated that we as Americans can accomplish anything… Only we as Americans can assure we live up to the sacrifice.”
State Rep. Sheila Harrington encouraged parade attendees to visit the Fort Devens Museum “to better understand the sacrifice made by so many.”
While the nation has suffered “casualties,” Harrington said the word is flimsy in describing the “enormity” of the loss of human life “and the tragic ripple effect that loss has on their families and loved ones.” Their deaths “should never be taken casually by any man, woman or child who treasures the freedoms they’ve enjoyed in this country. … Honor their memory and courage every day of the year by never treating their sacrifices casually.”
Selectman James Fay, a U.S. Army veteran, carried the American flag within the American Legion color guard. Selectman and U.S. Navy veteran Frank Maxant marched with fellow selectmen Pauline Conley and Chairman Gary Luca.
Luca listed the battles that claimed the millions, from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the more recent Middle East conflicts and all in between. “Peace and democracy come at a very high price and that’s the loss of life and sacrifice,” said Luca.
Lifelong resident and Navy veteran Robert Hamel served as the parade’s grand marshall. Hamel served 35 years at the veterans’ affairs office at the VA in Bedford, is a 54-year member of the Ayer Sportsman’s Club and served 58 years as the Scout Master of Boy Scout Troop 2, earning the Silver Beaver award. Hamel’s been a member of the American Legion Post 139 for 13 years.
Hamel served for four years in active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1963, achieving the rank of hospital corpsman 2nd class. Hamel then served six more years in the Navy Reserve until 1969, having attained the rank of hospital corpsman 1st class. He served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation when it was commissioned in 1961.
The parade leader was Edna Gail Brown and the parade marshall was James Luchessi of the American Legion Post 139. The American Legion Posts 139 of Ayer and 183 of Shirley led the parade down Main Street, along with a bagpipe contingency, the Ayer High School Honor Guard, members of the Ayer Fire and Police departments, the Caleb Butler Masonic Lodge, Boy Scout Troops 2 and 3, Cub Scout Pack 32, Ayer/Shirley Girl Scout Troop 62094, and the town’s Little League teams.
Boy Scouts Jordan Rodriguez and Tyler Landry laid a wreath by the granite markers encircling the Memorial Garden aside town hall before the parade reassembled to march to Pirone Park for a Navy ceremony. American Legion Post 139 Chaplain J. Walter Forest noted the “valor and devotion of our departed comrades,” both those interred stateside and those “who rest beyond the seas.” He prayerfully asked for strength to “give us the power to see and the will to do right.”
The newest member of the American Legion joined in the parade — Army Reservist Staff Sgt. Kimberly Vega, who returned in April from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan as a medic in the 344th Combat Support Hospital. Vega marched along with her daughter, Taylor, and father, retired Staff Sgt. Frank Pecci.