Martha’s Vineyard Memorial Day parade honors sacrifice, service

In poignant remarks, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Richard Christopher recalled the sacrifices of those who had died in wartime throughout the nation's history. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard observed Memorial Day in a solemn ceremony held at the Oak Grove Cemetery In Tisbury. In poignant remarks, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Richard Christopher recalled the sacrifices of those who had died in wars throughout the nation’s history.

“It is because of brave, selfless actions that missions are completed, battles are won, and soldiers’ lives are spared,” Mr. Christopher said. “Many of the people who let Memorial Day pass by without a second thought may very well owe their existence to the courageous sacrifices of a sailor, soldier, airman or Marine on some foreign soil in some bygone time.”

Mr. Christopher cited specific examples of bravery and valor demonstrated by five military personnel who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

Under a cloudy sky, Island veterans joined by members of the Island law enforcement community, emergency response personnel from several Island towns, and a large contingent of Boy and Girl Scouts set off from American Legion Post 257 opposite Tisbury School at 9:30 am in a steady march to the nearby cemetery.

Tisbury Police detective Mark Santon headed up the parade on a motorcycle. A color guard from U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha and another made up of Martha’s Vineyard veterans followed.

Even before the procession came into view along the parade route, the sounds of “God Bless America,” played by Legion bugler Edson Rogers, followed by bagpipe music played by Tony Peak heralded its progress. A drums corps of four Tisbury School students and band teacher Julie Schilling kept the marchers in step.

The parade formation that included Daisies, Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts, and town officials marched along Pine Tree Road to Oak Grove Cemetery where 425 American flags whipped in the breeze.

Dukes County director of veterans services Jo Ann Murphy directed the ceremony. Participants represented a wide variety of Island organizations and age groups.

Boy Scout Riley Craig and Daisy Girl Scout Aileen Mahoney raised and lowered the flag. The Reverend Thomas Lopes offered an opening prayer. Girl Scout Ashley Casey led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Her strong, clear voice resonated as the crowd listened in respectful silence.

Joe Gervais of West Tisbury performed “If You’re Reading This,” a song by American country music artist Tim McGraw in tribute to families of fallen soldiers. Island Girl Scouts led the crowd in singing “God Bless America.”

American Legion Ladies Auxiliary president Linda Voluckas and member Priscilla Thifault, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Capt. Gen DeFelice, and Gold Star wife Renee Ortiz placed wreaths at the Avenue of Flags honoring those killed in World Wars I and II, Vietnam, and the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001.

Throughout the event, the sky was overcast but there was no rain.

As the guest speaker, Mr. Christopher lauded the crowd for attending the ceremony and paying tribute to what Memorial Day is all about.

“For many, Memorial Day stirs nostalgic memories of the past and marks the beginning of a more leisurely, carefree summer spirit,” he said. “As a deeply patriotic American, it warms my heart to see so many of you here today taking time out of your busy schedule to pay respect to those who have given their lives for this country.”

He also called to mind those who continue to serve, and asked everyone to keep Bo Bergdahl, a 25-year-old U.S. Army Sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, in their thoughts and prayers. Mr. Christopher said Sergeant Bergdahl was taken captive in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed to be the only U.S. soldier held by the Taliban at this time.

“Never forget, never let your children forget, how fortunate we are to have a voluntary force of men and women willing to safeguard our freedom so we can rest soundly at night,” Mr. Christopher said.

“Let us never forget, from the Revolutionary War to the current war on terrorism, and all the wars in between, that sacrifice was made for our freedom,” he added.

Mr. Christopher served in Vietnam in 1970-71 with the Third Marine Division in an artillery unit. He is currently the commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Saugus Chapter. In 1995-96 he served as the DAV State Commander.

Mr. Christopher and his wife, Lena, frequently visit Vineyard Haven where their daughter, Nicole, and her husband Gary Bartlett live, along with their children, Alexandra, 13, and Richard, 10.

“I was very proud to be among the people of Martha’s Vineyard for this occasion,” Mr. Christopher said.

The Tisbury fire department put the ladder truck known as “Bronto,” on display at the ceremony, with a large American Flag at the top of its extended platform. Moments after the ceremony ended, they received a call and Bronto was stripped of its colors and put back to work.

On the parade group’s return from the cemetery to the American Legion, past Legion Commander Kevan Nichols, with assistance from his granddaughter Aileen Mahoney and her friend Emma Williamson, laid a wreath at the Civil War Monument. Captain Richard Reinhardsen did the same at the Merchant Marine monument at the American Legion.