Director of Veterans Services John Herrera speaks at Monday's observances.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Memorial Day trappings were traditional: an honor guard at Pittsfield Cemetery, the singing of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" by veteran and nonagenarian Anthony Pastore, and an address recalling the sacrifice of those being honored.
But that's where the normality ended. There was no parade of veterans and dignitaries, no crowd at the cemetery. The honor guards and attendees kept their distance and some wore masks as well.
Instead, a truncated Memorial Day ceremony was recorded Monday morning for play Pittsfield Community Television.
Director of Veterans Services John Herrera acknowledged that the novel coronavirus pandemic had disrupted the annual observances.
"I will say this one thing about COVID-19, it has certainly changed our away of life. Typically there would be hundreds of people here in honor of those who have gone before us," he said. "We would be calling out their names. But this year, unfortunately, we can not do that."
Herrera did name a few Pittsfielders, such as well-known World War I hero Charles Whittesley, who who led the "Lost Battalion" in the Meuse-Argonne, and Eugene Kalinowsky, a tail gunner shot down over Germany during World War II and executed by the Nazis. And the fallen from more current conflicts such as Daniel Petithory and Michael DeMarsico Jr.
The honor guard also offered the names of family members they were memorializing, such as World War II veterans Antonio Perras and Bronze Star recipient Samuel DiFilippo; and, for Robert Waldheim, "all my brothers and sisters on the wall in Washington, D.C., from the Vietnam War."
Herrera also told the story of the "Four Chaplains" from different religions and sects who were traveling together on a troop transport across the North Atlantic in 1943 when the ship, the SS Dorchester, was sunk by a U-boat.
New 1st Lts. George Fox (Methodist), Alexander Goode (Reform Judaism), Clark Poling (Reformed Church in America), and John Washington (Roman Catholic) helped organize evacuation of the ship, gave their life jackets to others and stayed aboard to pray and sing hymns it went down. Only 230 of the more than 900 troops and crew survived.
"One survivor recalled seeing the chaplains in their final act as the finest thing 'I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,' " Herrera read.
"Ladies and gentlemen, take time today to think about those lost in combat. Those who have gone before us, for whichever war it is and give them the honor, respect, and devotion that they are due."
He also thanked the volunteers, particularly Peter Marchetti, for putting out flags in Pittsfield and St. Joseph's cemeteries, the City Council, the mayor and Marine Corps veteran John Harding, who oversees much of the effort.