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‘Let every nation know … we shall pay any price … to assure … liberty’

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As they do every year, the town’s residents did not hold back last Monday, showing their true colors and keeping the faith with the nation’s servicemen past and present as the annual Memorial Day parade wended its way up Hollis Street and concluded at the Groton Cemetery.

There, keynote speaker Lt. Col. John Bruggeman of the 25th Marine Regiment and a Groton resident reminded the hundreds gathered at the cemetery of the sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with little thought of themselves.

“These men and women are all heroes,” Bruggeman said.

By way of example, Bruggeman cited Medal of Honor winner Staff Sgt. Jared Monti, who was mortally wounded in action against the enemy in Afghanistan when he braved withering fire to bring in one of his wounded men.

To reinforce his point, Bruggeman went on to describe the heroism of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham who, in 2004, was with a unit investigating the scene of a roadside blast in Iraq when the driver of pickup truck fled, tossing a grenade behind him. Acting quickly, Dunham threw himself upon the grenade using his helmet to smother the blast. Managing to save the other members of his squad, Dunham was nevertheless fatally wounded as the result of his selfless action and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Finally, Bruggeman noted Medal of Honor recipients Sgts. Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, who received the award for their efforts to rescue a downed helicopter pilot in Somalia in 1993. The two men reached the pilot, but were killed while holding off enemy fighters. Their sacrifice, however resulted in the rescue of the pilot.

But as outstanding as the examples of heroism cited by Bruggeman were, they were not intended to outshine the sacrifices made by every service members day in and day out over the last two centuries of American history.

Bruggeman himself pointed out that the Medal of Honor winners were not looking to be heroes but only trying to do their best and to protect the comrades who shared the danger with them.

But the stories of such men as Gordon, Shughart, Dunham, and Monti are remembered because they speak to Americans of their dedication to the country’s ideals and the compassion they felt for others. Their capacity for self-sacrifice, commitment, and loyalty speak volumes about the American spirit.

“These heroes have truly set for us a great example,” concluded Bruggeman.

Bruggeman led a contingent of local veterans in Monday’s parade, which also included members of the Groton Minuteman Company, the Groton-Dunstable High School Band, town officials, and Girl and Boy Scouts.

“Memorial Day parades are a great patriotic activity,” commented Connecticut resident Pat LeJeune. “It’s a traditional thing and our country needs to keep its traditions. We’ve already erased so many of them, let’s not erase this one.”

“I’m a retired Army veteran and think parades like this are great,” added resident Dennis Morin. “We need to do things like this so we can never forget.”

“It’s a great tribute to all the folks who fought for our freedom,” said Suzanne Morin. “It’s a good way to remember them.”

“Having a parade like this is a nice community event,” said resident Meredith Ouellette, who attended Monday’s event with sons Zachary, 3, and Andrew, 5. “It really brings people together.”

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 hundreds 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 need to keep our Memorial Day celebrations alive for the vets,” said Minuteman member Joseph Gamester, a resident of York, Maine, whose own grandson, Marine Paul King, was killed in Iraq. “The vets fought for and often gave their lives for us.”

“We need to support our Memorial Day parade,” insisted resident Jodi Deuger, whose son, Drew, graduated from West Point. “We need to honor our veterans.”

“Americans have taken so much for granted,” said husband Mark Deuger. “And Groton does a good job of keeping the spirit of Memorial Day going.”

“Our veterans have served and sometimes sacrificed their lives and soldiers continue to do that today,” concluded Jodi Deuger.

At the Groton Cemetery, Boy Scouts raised a flag to half mast and veterans took turns laying single stems of flowers in honor of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country in wars ranging from the Revolution to the Spanish-American to the Civil War to the War on Terror.

A last-minute arrival at the cemetery was state Sen. Eileen Donoghue who, noting her own father’s career as a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima, reminded listeners that the soldiers honored on Memorial Day were more than simple statistics or numbers — each had a story to tell.

Those stories, she said, deserve to be remembered and retold and to become a kind of living history among family, friends and neighbors. Uncommon valor, she said, is a common virtue among all soldiers.