WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After honoring all the long-standing traditions of the town's Memorial Day ceremonies, American Legion Post 152 Commander Joseph Bushika made some news.
The post's membership has decided to honor the memory of longtime member and veterans advocate John M. "Mike" Kennedy by naming the post in his honor.
"It was an easy decision to make," Bushika told the crowd gathered at Field Park.
"The list of what he did for veterans in this area goes on and on," Bushika said after the ceremony concluded. "What a tremendous person.
"I've only known Mike for 12 or 15 years, but people don't come any better than Mike Kennedy. He's a true veteran and a true veterans' man. Let's put it that way."
Kennedy, who also served the Williamstown Police Department for 30 years — the last 11 as chief leading up to his retirement in 200 — died earlier this month at 75.
Each year, the local American Legion chapter presents American flags to the families of deceased veterans in the area. On Monday, that honor went to the Kennedy family.
The ceremony as always was preceded by a parade up Main Street to Field Park. The sun shone brightly as units of local youth baseball and softball players, Girl Scouts and the Mount Greylock Regional School band joined veterans and first responders on the parade route.
Bushika, the ceremony's main speaker, reminded the crowd that the ceremony and holiday are not dedicated to veterans like himself but to those men and women who never had the chance to return home for such recognition.
"Most veterans had the good fortune of surviving the horrors of war and returning home," Bushika said. "May with terrible wounds and missing limbs. Many were declared heroes by their hometowns.
"But any veteran will tell you that the real heroes are the ones who didn't survive, the ones who died on the battlefield, those that sacrificed their lives for the love of their country, their families and, yes, their comrades."
The North Adams Memorial Day Ceremony was held at the Veterans Memorial after a parade through downtown.
Keynote speaker state Rep. John Barrett III recalled Army Sgt. Peter Foote, who died in combat during the Vietnam War; Peter Cook, a Clarksburg native who was killed during the Vietnam War, and Army Spc. Michael R. DeMarsico II, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan.
"I thought to myself isn't it a shame that sometimes we forget? We talk about it in generalities." he said. "...Today I want to personalize what it meant to this community. I can't talk about the 33 who died in WWI, I can't talk about the 72 who died in WWII, I can't talk about the 12 who died in the Koren Conflict, but I can talk about a couple of them who died in Vietnam and one in Afghanistan."
Barrett recalled memories of Foote, an outstanding athlete from Drury High School who had a bright future.
He recalled DeMarsico and the thousands who lined the streets of North Adams when his body was brought back home in 2012.
Barrett said Cook had to put his dream of starting a family on hold when he left for Vietnam. He did not return and his wife was made a widow.
"That is the impact it has and how it touches the lives of people. No longer can Peter and his wife ride through the mountains of Berkshire County on their motorcycle and enjoy the beauty of it. Michael DeMarsico can no longer go up to Mount Greylock and enjoy it," the former mayor said. "That is what losing people is all about. We have to personalize the tragedies that happen in our community so that we will never forget."
Mayor Jennifer Macksey also spoke and reminded attendees that Memorial Day is more than a day off, marking the start of the summer season.
"I ask you that you hit pause and reflect on the true meaning of today. Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces and gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives," she said. "It's a day to remember their courage as they sacrificed their lives for our liberties. It is a day to remind us of the price of freedom. For countless families across the nation, including many in our own community … we honor those people today. Their sacrifice is a true expression of selfless service."
American Legion Post 125 Cmdr. Mitchell Keil was the master of ceremonies and the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church opened the ceremony with a prayer. Keira LaCasse gave the Gettysburg Address. She is the recipient of the George O. Angeli Award.
The Drury High band played selections and Noah Wilhelm and Kaylee Lescarbeau played taps.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Monique Gajda recalls the soldiers and sailors of Adams who went to war, including her grandfather who was killed at Monte Cassino. See more photos here.
Adams paid tribute to the men and women of the Mother Town who lost their lives in service to the nation.
It was of particular significance to retired Air Force Lt. Col. Monique Gajda Yates, a pilot and staff officer, whose family had borne that sacrifice.
"Memorial Day is a day for both grief and celebration, reflecting on the tragic loss and recounting courage and service," said Yates, as keynote speaker for the town's annual observance. "For myself, I contemplate the military personnel, mostly young men from Adams who fought in World War Two. My own grandfather died at Monte Cassino, when my father (Stan Gajda) was only 6 months old."
Monte Cassino in 1944 was one of the bloodiest battles in Italy as Allied Forces worked their way up the peninsula toward Rome.
"The Allied Forces did dominate the area, but not after a loss of over 50,000 men, many of them from Poland or American immigrants, like those from Adams," Yates continued, citing a Polish song about the vicious fighting. "The red poppies on Monte Cassino drink Polish blood instead of dew, as a soldier crushed them in falling, for their anger was more potent than death.
"Years will pass and ages will roll. But traces of bygone days will stay and the poppies on Montecasino will be ready for the Polish blood in their soil."
She noted the many flags adorning graves surrounding them at the Maple Street Cemetery and that parades and speeches do not exist in every town any longer.
"The fact that Adams still celebrates is a testimony to who you all are," she said. "The point is we gathered today, we express gratitude for the life we live. And we remember the people we cherish."
The ceremony followed a parade along Hoosac, Summer and Park Streets.
Paul Hutchinson was master of ceremonies, Deacon Gregory LaFreniere gave opening and closing prayers, and Hoosac Valley Middle School students gave the Gettysburg Address and read "In Flanders Fields." The Hoosac Valley High band played taps and the national anthem and an American Legion honor guard gave the salute.
Tyer's father and stepmother, Lt. Col. Lawrence Casey and Col. Pamela Casey, were the guests of honor in Pittsfield. See more photos here.
Over 100 people gathered at the Pittsfield Cemetery for a ceremony following the city's Memorial Day parade.
Director of Veteran's Services James Clark described it as a day where "we joined together as a people to honor the brave men and women who sacrificed all in defense of our country, and for all the countless men and women who are still serving in harm's way today."
Mayor Linda Tyer's father and stepmother, Lt. Col. Lawrence Casey and Col. Pamela Casey were the guests of honor. Both are retired from the Air Force.
"It's an honor and privilege to be at any of these ceremonies, which I love to attend," Lawrence Casey said, adding that it is special to be in Pittsfield with his daughter and to see the amount of respect that Pittsfield has.
Tyer said Memorial Day is a day of gratitude for the valor of others and a day to remember the warriors of Pittsfield who rest in the cemetery and in faraway graves.
Memorial Day has always been a peaceful day of reflection in the mayor's life as the daughter of a military family.
"To the families of our fallen patriots, our words of condolence failed to ease your heartbreak. We can never fully know your grief yet we do know what your sacrifice means to us and to our country and to a dangerous world that still depends so much on the greatest fighting force in the world for its security," she said.
"All across the United States, military personnel protect our borders. American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are currently serving far beyond our shores, far from home, protecting us. Today and every day we honor them and our families with deep gratitude and everlasting support. We enjoy our freedoms and liberties because of their valor, fidelity, and sacrifice. A grateful nation thanks and honors the fallen, the wounded, those who were held prisoners of war, and those listed missing and unaccounted for."
Tyer said that the nation's warriors are all unique and come from all backgrounds but have one thing in common: they love the United States of America.
She explained that her father was assigned a tour of duty at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand during the height of the Vietnam War in 1968.
He was just 26 years old.
"This young captain would watch with heartfelt hope as the fighter jets lifted off, headed into the fight," Tyer said.
"He would count each jet as it left the air base and then he would count each jet upon their return. This is how young Captain Casey knew who was lost, who needed prayers, and whose family might be crushed by grief."
Casey retired the same year that his daughter graduated from college.
"I was the lucky kid whose dad came home every night and kept me safe from so many of life's challenges," she said. "Many families and many children did not have their dad or their brother or their sister so having him here today with me is a special and deeply personal moment."
Also during the ceremony, Paul Tagliaferro read a poem that he wrote about Taps.
Veteran Fran Tremblay was the master of ceremonies, Veteran Curtis Janey sang the National Anthem, the V.V.A. James E. Callahan Berkshire Chapter 65 Honor Guard did the volley, and the taps were done by Joe DeFilipo.
Navy Veteran and American Legion Post 155 member Peter Morrissey conducted the POW/MIA Ceremony. See more photos here.
Dalton honored the lives of fallen soldiers during its Memorial Day parade and ceremony at the Main Street Cemetery.
Wahconah Regional High student Aidan Garcia was one of two students to speak at the ceremony.
Garcia reminded attendees of the importance of remembering and understanding the sacrifices of fallen soldiers.
He encouraged all to listen to the stories of veterans that provide a glimpse into an experience that cannot be read in textbooks or fully understood by civilians.
"Civilians will never truly understand. We can try to come close and that is why it is important to make an effort to come as close as you can to understanding the sacrifice. Honoring their lives should show you rather than telling you to remember," Garcia said.
"If we come close to truly understanding Memorial Day, we won't be one a year, because every day we should be grateful for what our servicemen and women have endured."
He added that recognizing and acknowledging their stories is an essential part of being an involved, aware citizen. The memories of the fallen soldiers is the closest thing we have to them, he said.
Student Paige Trager echoed these remarks adding that although the country is currently not at war, it is necessary to honor the soldiers' sacrifices by working to make the country a better place.
"The stories of the fallen matter and need to be told. By sharing the stories of the lost ones we keep their memories alive and give others a glimpse of military service with the hope to inspire them to create a better world, a stronger nation and kinder communities," she said.
Master of ceremonies Wahconah Regional High Principal acknowledged community leaders in attendance including state Sen. Paul Mark, Legion Post 155 Cmdr. Robert Dasset, Town Manager Thomas Hutcheson, and the Select Board members.
Navy veteran and Legion Post 155 member Peter Morrissey conducted the Prisoner of War/Missing In Action ceremony to honor the veterans who did not make it back home.
Cheshire held a parade with floats that culminated at the Veterans Memorial at Town Hall. See more photos here.
The patriotic spirit of Cheshire was on full display Monday afternoon with a parade and floats, a large turnout of residents and the return of the essay contest for middle school students.
?Callie Meyette-Rochelo, Aiden Mendonca, Ethan Poulton, Jackson Kirchner and Jack Lanski each wrote about what Memorial Day mean to them.
All five agreed that it meant a day to remember those who fell in service to their country and, for a couple, it meant thinking about members of their family.
Ethan said his great-grandmother was in the Air Force and his father in the Marines. "This means a lot because it means my family members served our country and help to get it where it is today — free," he said. "Maybe I will, too."
Jackson said he thought about his family members and the soldiers who had sacrificed their lives. He has one uncle in the Navy and another in the Coast Guard.
"I think it's important to honor them," he said, "because our country wouldn't be what it is today without them. I feel as if they didn't serve the country, we might not be standing here at all or at least in the beautiful world we have."
Memorial Day isn't just a day to start the summer, said Aiden. "You should be kind and think about the soldiers that passed away or at other times," he said. "There are two people who come to mind when I think of Memorial Day. The first person is my Grampa Joe Mendonca, he served in the navy, and the other person's name is Daniel Petithory. He was born and raised in Cheshire and he passed away when he was 32 years old (in Afghanistan)."
Selectmen Chair Shawn McGrath read Jack Lanski's essay as he was unable to attend. Jack said his mother had served in the armed forces and he thought a lot about families during the Civil War and how he would like to have thanked them, and especially soldiers who fought in World War II. They, he wrote, "are heroes for our nation and for so many others."
Callie, who also read the Gettysburg Address, said most kids do think of the holiday as a day off from school or the beginning of summer, but they should remember the sacrifices made by so many others.
"Sometimes I think what would have happened if those brave soliders hadn't been brave enough to fight for us," she said. "I may not personally know any soldiers who died in battle and they didn't know me, but they risked their lives for all of us. ...
"Take a moment and fill it with gratitude for the men and women who served our country."
McGrath was the master of ceremonies for the observances at Town Hall, Fire Chief Thomas Francesconi read the names of Cheshire's fallen, Sandra Sloane read a poem and Lois Nagle placed the wreath at the Veterans Memorial. State Sen. Paul Mark and state Rep. John Barrett III marched in the parade and attended the ceremony.
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