The town’s Memorial Day services were held Monday morning, which started out sultry-cloudy-rainy-misty and changed to sunny and hot within the first hour.

The program included a parade, with color guard and arms squad led by hometown veteran Steve Cronin and Veterans Agent Dennis Lyddy. Other veterans followed in marching order, Selectman Ron Ricci among them.

The parade lineup also included Harvard firefighters in dress uniform, Scout troops and the Immaculate Heart of Mary band from Still River.

Commencing at 10 a.m, the parade proceeded from Town Hall to the center.

The itinerary included stops at the town’s three cemeteries and various war memorials and flagpoles, where the flag of the United States of America flew at half staff. In keeping with the tradition of “Decoration Day,” wreaths and flowers (potted geraniums) were placed at the monuments and on veterans’ graves.

Speeches on the Common were brief and simple, befitting the solemn occasion.

At the Center Cemetery, Lyddy told the assembled crowd there are “many patriots,” both men and women, buried in the town of Harvard, including 151 pre-Revolutionary, Revolutionary and Civil War veterans. If anyone knows of a veteran whose grave has not been singled out for an appropriate marker, he asked that they contact him at Town Hall.

Each ceremony began with a reading of the 1868 Decoration Day declaration and included the playing of taps on the bugle, hauntingly beautiful every time.

Serving as chaplain, WWII veteran Peter K. Johnston, of Ayer, gave the invocation on the Common. Asked later which American Legion post he belongs to, he said none, but he “makes the rounds,” participating in as many local observances as he can get to.

Peter Johnston and his twin brother Paul, now deceased, grew up in Harvard and enlisted from there, he said. His brother resided in town.

Mr. Johnston prayed for humbled hearts and unselfish purpose in honor of the “valiant dead,” who perished in the nation’s wars, remembering those buried here, overseas and in “places unknown.”

Lt. Cmdr. Steve Dakin, active reservist and Navy civil engineer, was the keynote speaker.

On the 143rd occasion of “our most solemn national holiday,” he came “dressed in the cloth of our nation,” he said, meaning his Navy dress uniform.

Today, Memorial Day today honors all American military men and women who died serving their country. But its prototype, Decoration Day, was established to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, Dakin said.

He recalled the original order issued by General John A, Logan, of the Grand Army of the Republic that a local Eagle Scout read earlier in the program, calling for decorations to be placed in “every village and churchyard” in the land.

It was a fitting tribute, laying to rest the war dead and the war that threatened to tear a new nation asunder. It was not fought between nations or on foreign soil but at home, between brothers, families, former friends. The American Civil war divided a new nation against itself and decimated a generation of young men.

Dakin recalled a speech President James Garfield gave at Arlington Cemetery, in which he said 30,000 civil war soldiers were buried there.

The total number was staggering. Over the four years of the Civil War, between 600,000 and 700,000 confederate and union soldiers died in battle or of disease.

Dakin also recalled a memorial gathering he attended at a Naval base in 2009, honoring 18 servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan. Plaques were placed for the 16 men and two women, he said. It was a moving ceremony, more so to him at the time, since his former Naval unit had recently returned home safe and sound, all 500 of them.

In today’s “all-volunteer” military, men and women “serve because they want to,” he said. And are likely to be deployed in the war on terror. But their duty is clear. “We all take the same pledge,” he said, including the “American heroes” he’d just spoken of.

“All give some and some give all, as they did,” he said, drawing on an old saying.

Today, many mark Memorial Day as the “start of summer,” he said. But he asked that amid the celebrations, people stop to remember “the sacrifices of the few on behalf of the many.” And to think about those serving now who “protect the American way of life.”

Cronin concluded the ceremony with a “new town tradition.” He read the names of town veterans who passed away since last Memorial Day, as church bells rang for each one.

There were seven this year: Dr. Jeffrey Harris, Roger Guptil, James Wallace, Robert Nicewicz, Joe Molina, Oleh Dutkewych, and Katina Hayden.