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HARVARD — The clock on the Town Common had struck 10 Monday morning when Memorial Day observances began.

The parade was led by Veterans Services Officer Dennis Lyddy who organized the program. There were several stops on the route.

The first stop was the Civil War Monument. A wreath was laid there and later at other war monuments as the ceremonies continued.

Solemn tributes were repeated at each site. Taps was played by Sarah Sullivan and David Sherrill, members of the Nashoba Valley Concert Band.

Girl Scouts Kara Kennedy and Janet Sorrells read the original declaration that established Decoration Day. Today, it is a National Holiday called Memorial Day and is set aside to honor all the nation’s war dead, from the American Revolution to the War on Terror.

Perhaps the first observance was in April 1866 in Columbus, Miss., when a group of women visiting a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who died at Shiloh noted the neglected graves of Union soldiers nearby. The story goes that the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, too.

On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day would be observed on May 30. Each year, that day would be set aside to decorate with flowers or wreaths the graves of the heroic war dead who had defended and preserved the country and “suppressed the late rebellion,” he said.

Their graves were “hallowed ground,” their remains “sacred.”

“The Commander in Chief earnestly desires to preserve the tradition,” the declaration stated.

Veteran William Donnelly laid the first wreath at the Civil War monument.

Korean War Veteran Sumner Gilfix laid the next wreath.

The parade moved to the Town Center Cemetery, where Girl Scouts placed geraniums on the graves of 154 veterans from the American Revolution to the Spanish American War.

A wreath was placed at the monument beneath the flagpole, where the original version of the United States flag, with its circle of 13 stars, flew at half-mast.

The final stop on this circuit was at another flagpole on the far end of grassy common.

There, Navy Veteran Fred Hinchliffe placed the wreath, after which Lyddy presented the guest speaker, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Scott Jackson, who has been living in town for the past year while on educational fellowship at MIT.

On active duty and with a 22-year career behind him, Jackson has served three combat tours over the past eight years. The respite has been a “great break” for his family and has provided a “nice slice” of small town life, he said.

With fallen service men and women buried in churchyards across the land, he urged people to “do whatever you can” in the spirit of Decoration Day.

Memorial Day has become a time for picnics, parties and parades, but “this is a moment to stop” and remember their sacrifices, he said.

Speaking 154 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., President Garfield said the holiday was about “reconciliation,” at that time, and about pausing to consider in gratitude the “pleasures of liberty” that those sacrifices preserved.

“Dead soldiers’ silence sings,” he said.

He noted men from Harvard who died in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars: Andrew Pale in 1776; Pastor Dan Johnson, who died while ministering to the troops in 1777; Waldo S. Wilder, in 1861 and 15-year-old Lyman Blood, killed in battle at Petersburg.

“Our neighbors have lost loved ones in conflicts since 9/11,” Jackson continued. One of them was Christopher Sullivan of Princeton.

Sgt. Sullivan was a young officer “eagerly” awaiting a combat command when he got one, Jackson said. But he was killed two weeks later when an IED exploded as he and his men were in pursuit of insurgents in Iraq.

“He loved soldiering and he loved soldiers,” Jackson said of Sullivan. “He did not expect his fate, but it was the mission he accepted.”

Quoting the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Jackson underscored the final stanza, in which the dead exhort others to “take up our quarrel” or they would not rest in peace. Sullivan and other military men and women who died serving their country did just that, he said.

As we remember them in our prayers, we should also pray for “Gold Star families” who have lost parents, spouses, sons, daughters, siblings.

But Jackson stressed honor as well as loss.

Speaking at one of the first Decoration Day ceremonies, President Benjamin Harrison said he was unable to think of it as a day of mourning, he said. Instead, it was to him a “joyous, triumphant” commemoration that underlined the values and freedoms the honored dead gave their lives to protect. “God bless America and our troops still in harm’s way!” Jackson said.

After an invocation by “Cpl. Peter Johnson, our chaplain ad infinitum” Kennedy and Sorrels read the names of veterans from town who had passed away this year, renewing a tradition begun last year. There were nine. A bell was rung for each one.

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