TOWNSEND — There was at least one noticeable absence as Townsend veterans gathered to honor Memorial Day. Longtime VFW member Norman Richard died just a few weeks ago, his solemn visage missed in the annual gathering.
Alongside the gravity that accompanies Memorial Day, were the smiles brought about by what for Townsend has been a very long and cherished tradition.
“Every year. Every year. It’s tradition,” Louise Fortin said as she watched the Memorial Day parade from a friend’s yard in West Townsend.
For 30 years World War II veteran Bob Tumber, 86, carried the flag in the parade. Recently, he has accepted a ride in an open car.
The Sunday, May 27, parade began with a ceremony in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Park in West Townsend.
Wreaths were placed, volleys were fired and flowers strewn from an open boat on the Squannacook River honoring veterans from all branches of the service.
Veterans, neighbors and families lined the parade route, saluting and paying respect.
“You’ve got to take your hat off when the flag goes by,” one child was reminded.
Strong community involvement is one tradition of the parade, beautiful weather is another.
It sprinkled some one year, said retired Korean War veteran Richard Koivu, “that’s the only rain I can recollect” in 46 years of taking part.
Participants in the parade have been honoring veterans for a long time.
The Townsend Military Band, formed in 1838, is a big part of the day. They performed patriotic songs and hymns at the start of the parade and during the ceremonies along the route.
Drummers beat time for the marchers and at each stop, trumpeters performed a two-part version of taps.
Members of the Townsend Minuteman Company marched in the parade under the direction of Capt. John Barrett.
Townsend residents have a long tradition of fighting for their country. Militiamen responded to the call for help at the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, but did not arrive in time to fight because of the 25 mile journey, Barrett said.
Some remained to fight in the Siege of Boston and others fought in the Continental Army throughout the war.
“They saw some action,” Barrett said. Seven Townsend men were killed in the American Revolution.
Boy Scout Troop 210, under the leadership of Tom Whittier, marched in the parade. The scouts have probably taken part since the troop was formed sometime in the 1920s, he said.
Members of Girl Scout Troops 30642 and 30170 from Townsend and Ashby marched. Some of the Scouts have marched in memory of Townsend’s veterans for more than 10 years.
Holly’s Bunch, a baton twirling school from Pepperell, marched in the parade for the 28th time.
“We’re the flash to the parade. We add the sparkle,” owner and teacher Holly DeGroot said.
The Rev. Shayna Appel from the Townsend Congregational Church, a chaplain and emergency medical technician for the Townsend Fire Department, delivered the opening invocation.
She concluded with, “Gracious God, today we march as soldiers of comfort in honor of all who have died in war. Steady our steps, keep us in Your almighty stead. May all those who mourn this day feel their burdens lightened by the sound of every boot step, every drum beat, every note played, and every honorary shot of remembrance fired.”