A cold wind and overcast skies did not deter residents from paying their respects to the fallen at Veterans Memorial Park on Friday.
Roughly 40 South Burlington citizens, city and state officials and high school students assembled for the annual Memorial Day ceremony, which emphasized not only remembrance, but personal inspiration from those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The color guard comprised of South Burlington police officers and firefighters opened the ceremony by presenting the American and Vermont state flags, followed by the South Burlington High School Chamber Singers singing the national anthem. After the Pledge of Allegiance, those gathered took their seats to hear introductory speaker Helen Head, former chair of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. Head chose not to run for re-election last November after 16 years in the Vermont House. Rep. John Killacky won Head’s seat in November.
“It’s very fitting that we are here today to commemorate Memorial Day in this place, Veteran’s Memorial Park, with our veterans from South Burlington, and with the memories many of us bring of those from our community and others that have served us so well,” Head said. “As I look out on our memorials, and I think of the stories that our veterans bring to us, and the many conflicts that they participated in. It’s just so important that as we begin this summer weekend, that we take the time to commemorate what it’s really about, and that’s the memorial to our veterans.”
Father Patrick Forman of St. John Vianney Catholic Church then gave the invocation. He began by noting that when watching the news, there are many issues people are asked to take sides on.
“What a beautiful opportunity for us to gather as residents to say, with one voice, we are grateful,” he said. “Grateful to the men and woman of all the branches who have served so faithfully and gave their lives for their service. To honor them collectively, to put aside any differences that we have this morning and come together with a grateful heart as one people, one community, for the members of our community, especially, who gave their lives.”
Forman then began the prayer.
“We ask healing for all those conflicts that exist today, for all those who bear the scars of losing loved ones in service,” he said. “We ask that we always be mindful of the sacrifices made by so many, that we will never forget.”
Col. Al Belluche of the Vermont National Guard was the keynote speaker for the ceremony. He is the deputy chief of staff in charge of logistics and lives in Burlington.
In his remarks, Belluche shared his thoughts about Memorial Day, weather and all.
“I want to thank all of you for being out here,” he said. “It’s a little cooler than we all hoped for our Memorial Day weekend, so thanks for being out here.”
Belluche detailed the origins of Memorial Day, going back to 1868, when John Logan, the command-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans, issued an order designating May 30, 1868, for the purpose of decorating the graves of soldiers who died during the Civil War. He intended the designation to be honored year to year in order to include the public. This day came to be known as Decoration Day, and adopted by many states as a federal holiday.
After World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate those lost in all wars and came to be known as Memorial Day.
Belluche also explained the military tradition of Gold Star families, those who lost military spouses or family members in war. During World War I, he said families flew a flag with a blue star on it to signify that they had a son or daughter serving in the military. If that family member was killed, the family flew a flag with a gold star on it to signify the sacrifice of that soldier.
Belluche asked those present to remember the families who have lost loved ones to war.
“Unfortunately, there are too many Gold Star Families here in Vermont, as several active members have died in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Belluche said. “There are 14 members of the National Guard family who have paid the ultimate price … I’d like to remember and honor my fellow National Guardsman who have died while deployed serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please help me remember them.”
He then read the names of each soldier:
Sgt. William Normandy
Sgt. Alan Bean
Staff Sgt. Kevin Sheen
Staff Sgt. Jamie Gray
Master Sgt. Chris S. Chapin
1st Lt. Mark H. Dooley
Spc. Scott P. McLaughlin
2nd Lt. Mark Procopio
Sgt. Joshua Allen Johnson
Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone
Spc. Christopher Merchant
Spec. Ryan Grady
Sgt. Steven Deluzio
Sgt. Tristan Southworth
Belluche then quoted Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
In closing, Belluche then asked those gathered to define their own cause and take inspiration from the fallen.
“Service to others and service to our country go hand in hand,” he said. “You are probably already living your life by being the best you can be, however on this day, on this weekend, I challenge you that we can all be better. We can all be kinder, we can all be more open to others, we can all be more welcoming to those that are different from us, we can all be engaged in doing simple kindness in our communities. When doing good is difficult, I offer to you the names of the soldiers I just read. Feel free to use the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice as your personal inspiration for you to reaffirm your values and to put your values into action.”