PEPPERELL — Veterans began last Friday bright and early at Nissitissit Middle School for a breakfast with students and continued about town in preparation for Memorial Day weekend.
Members of Pepperell VFW Post 3291 and officers from Fort Devens toured schools in town to talk to children about Memorial Day.
“I ask kids what they want to do when they grow up and they say veterinarian or architect,” said 1st Sgt. Paulette Newcomb at Nissitissit Middle School’s veterans breakfast.
“They can do all these and a myriad of others in the service,” she said.
Newcomb has been stationed as a supply coordinator, engineer and drill sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps all over the world. She was the keynote speaker at North Middlesex Regional High School where she shared her experiences as a drill instructor on Parris Island in South Carolina.
There she met “some of the most amazing people to share the face of the planet with.”
After being deployed to Iraq in during late 2005 and 2006, she returned home and eventually settled as a battalion supply coordinator on Fort Devens. She has a husband Roger and a son Scott.
After conveying thanks to veterans and veterans’ relatives who were in the room, she said she still didn’t know what she wanted to do when she grows up.
“I have been wearing the Marine Corps uniform my entire adult life,” she said of her near 21-year career.
“And I wouldn’t trade one moment of it,” she added.
Newcomb said that Memorial Day has become synonymous with barbecues and the beach, things bear importance because they gather families together, but there is something more to the day.
“I also ask you to recognize the freedoms that you enjoy,” she said.
Newcomb recalled friends from Parris Island who were sent off to Afghanistan and were killed.
“I see give them a final salute, and daughters ask mothers ‘where’s daddy?’…” she said.
“They were the finest people I had the pleasure of knowing,” she said.
Pepperell VFW member and past commander Tony Saboliauskas appears at the event regularly and this year put together a two-part slide show presentation accompanied by music. Part one was entitled ‘The Warriors” and was sound tracked with James Horner’s rousing “Glory.”
“Every image I have prepared will show you the exact picture of freedom,” he said.
Saboliauskas’ photos of American cemeteries spanned the globe from Florence, Italy and Verdun, France to the Philippine Islands and Iwo Jima, North Africa, and England.
Cemeteries in small town America and a Western Union telegram about a soldier missing in action were displayed also.
One slide showed graves “known only to god” such as a makeshift cross with soldier’s helmet in a dense jungle setting and an old photograph of American soldiers covering a fallen infantryman with a poncho.
“On the field of battle, death is crude,” it read.
The second part dealt with remembrance of the fallen, and especially how families endure the loss year round. Backed with more solemn solo piano music, intimate photos of soldiers funerals were shown. Many were of younger children and their mothers accepting folded American flags beside coffins.
Saboliauskas wrote, of Memorial Day, it is a “time to know we are all dust, and will return to dust once again,” and, of his presentation, that he was trying to show the scope of the holiday, which encompasses “thousands of gravestones to the tears of a single broken heart.”
Assistant Principal Keith Higginbottom said the event was among his favorite the school puts on, and called the student body reverential and thoughtful.
“My generation, the generation seated in the auditorium, and the generation still in car seats continue to view Memorial Day with appreciation, reverence, respect and solemnity,” he said. Higginbottom also added he is the son, grandson, nephew and son-in-law of veterans.
Master of Ceremonies Jacqueline Cobeleigh read a poem entitled “No, Freedom isn’t Free” composed by Kelley Strong, a retired Coast Guard Commander, who composed it as a high school senior in 1981.
“I wondered just how many times, That taps had meant "Amen",” she read.
“When a flag had draped a coffin, Of a brother or a friend…”
A slide show by student Andrew Riley accompanied the narration with pictures of war memorials and veteran’s returning home.
To conclude, ceremonial wreaths were accepted on behalf of each town by representatives. Brenden McNabb and Micheal Workman accepted on behalf of Pepperell, James Willard and Rebecca Larose on behalf of Townsend, and Larose and Carl Mountain on behalf of Ashby.
Other events included remarks by state Rep. Sheila Harrington who commended North Middlesex for beginning a much needed Memorial Day tradition.
“All but two schools in my district now hold recognition ceremonies, and you are the ones who got the ball rolling,” she said.
Also at Nissitissit, Navy Seamen HM1 Wymon Anderson received recognition for his three years of veterans and memorial day appearances in and around the school district. He will be transferring to Ohio later this summer.
Army Major Marc Gasboro also spoke at the middle school. He will be leaving Massachusetts to be stationed at the Pentagon and he used his good-bye to honor those who lost their in the September 11, 2001 attacks on that building.