PEPPERELL — “I am not sure words can express the gratitude we feel, but Pepperell goes much further than words,” said Selectmen Michael Green, in front of the Town Monument.
Monday morning was about remembrance through stories. For Pepperell, the past seemed brought forth by both robust cheering and volleys by the firing squad and solemn gathering and prayer. The annual Memorial Day Parade stepped off from the VFW Post 3291 and proceeded down Main Street, lined with hundreds of onlookers whose numbers increased as the precession approached Town Hall. To many, servicemen were memorialized by oral histories.
“I had two grandfathers in WWII, and a father who is a retired Air Force pilot,” Green said. The selectman’s father, Lt. Col. Merle Green Jr., who was present at the ceremony, had flown C-5 Transport planes during his 20 years in the Air Force. Mike’s grandfather, Merle Green, sailed as a petty officer on the USS Augusta and, after retiring, succumbed to cancer in 1989.
His grandfather, George Lawrence, was also a pilot. Green honored him by telling a story of Lawrence being shot down over Italy in a B-47 Flying Fortress and parachuted to safety…almost.
“After helping another pilot out of a tree, he was captured by the Germans and spent several years in Stalag Luft 1 aviators and officers camp,” Green said. At the camp, located in Barth, Germany, Green said Lawrence told him he peeled a lot of potatoes. Later in Lawrence’s life, Green heard more of his story.
Green passed it on to the audience, and Lawrence’s flying story is still ongoing.
“He took me for my first and most memorable airplane ride of my life,” said Green, “I don’t think it’s common to have a 72-year-old grandfather who will take you to do barrel rolls and hammer heads.”
“Today, when celebrating Memorial Day, be sure to spark conversations, keep your loved one’s memories going,” Green said.
“Remember them and use every chance you get to tell stories,” he said.
State Rep. Sheila Harrington spoke of Pepperell local Noel Dube, a member of the 121 Combat Engineer Division who died peacefully just before Memorial Day last year.
Harrington told Dube’s amazing story of landing on Omaha Beach in France during D-Day. On the landing craft, he prayed to a Rosary, and all the men on the craft, and many in his company, came out of the campaign unscathed.
“After getting to shore he helped to destroy Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, and marched into Germany,” Harrington said. Eventually, Dube was wounded attempting to clear a minefield and was awarded the Purple Heart, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his duty.
Upon returning home, Dube erected the Fatima shrine in Pepperell and had several children.
“‘Casualty’ is a word that sounds too much like ‘casually,’ the enormous loss of life must not go unnoticed and not be taken casually,” Harrington said.
Former Pepperell Volunteer firefighter and war veteran Ken English Jr. served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. Three years later he joined the National Guard, and served until 2009. He went to Iraq during 2003 and 2004 with the 110th Maintenance Division.
“I enjoy marching in parades; I have for about 21 years,” he said. This year, continuing his story, he marched with the Pepperell Fire Department.
Experiences for narrator and listener alike add to the ongoing story of Memorial Day.
Upon turning left onto Main Street, selectmen, VFW, Fire Department, Boy Scout Troop 26, Nissitissit Middle School and NMRHS marching bands and slew of trucks from Fort Devens were joined by Cub Scouts who were handing out candy, Boy Scout Troop 13 and their flags, Girl Scout Troop 34011 with a homemade banner, two Brownie troops and the 4-H Club donning uniforms along with Little League baseball teams, and the NMRHS majorettes, who performed all the way down Main Street.
Dotted throughout the route were tributes to the fallen. Marching out front was the VFW, who said prayers and laid wreaths at each memorial and graveyard in town.
A wreath was also cast into the Nashua River by Navy Seaman Christopher Greathead to honor those who died at sea.
“Remember all who lost their loved ones since the beginning of this nation; let us honor their legacy of patriotism,” said VFW Chaplain Thomas Paradise at the Vietnam Memorial.
At each stop, North Middlesex Regional High School students Nathan French and Richard Cuoco played taps, taking up positions on either side of the ceremony and playing the short but crowd-quieting piece throughout the day.
Cucoco, who played it last year, said he was happy to be chosen again. It was French’s first year playing it.
“I don’t really feel nervous doing it. I feel honored,” said French.
The quiet solos of taps wasn’t the only mood struck, however.
After proceeding through the rotary, two F-18 Hornets cruised just south of Main Street, and then turned and screamed east to west over the Town Hall heading towards Railroad Square, bringing cheers from the crowd and marchers alike.
First time or last time, young or old, loud or soft, Memorial Day was celebrated and those who fought for our freedom, honored.