Unlike some international visitors to Martha’s Vineyard who find themselves on the Island for a holiday weekend by chance, the presence of Australians June Smyth and her friends Maggie and Paul O’Halloran at the Veterans Day parade and ceremony on Monday, November 11, was the culmination of plans made months ago.
Last spring, the trio began planning a trip to New England in the autumn. Looking at the itinerary, Ms. Smyth realized they would arrive on the Island around Veterans Day.
“We had been in America about three years ago and just missed Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Smyth, the keynote speaker at Monday’s ceremony, told The Times. “When we realized we’d be here, we thought, wow, let’s capture how you do your day. The three of us are passionate about our Armistice Day, called Remembrance Day, which we celebrate on November 11, as well.”
Ms. Smyth said that Australia honors all veterans on Remembrance Day, just as the U.S. does on Veterans Day. Although she knew Boston holds a Veterans Day parade, she wasn’t sure about Martha’s Vineyard.
She thought the local media could answer her question and emailed Nelson Sigelman, managing editor at The Times, who told her about the Island’s Veterans Day observance in Oak Bluffs.
Ms. O’Halloran said it took many emails, phone calls and negotiations to orchestrate their five-day Vineyard visit so it ended on Veterans Day. Ms. Smyth also contacted Dukes County Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy and asked if she could pay tribute to the U.S. veterans at the ceremony following the parade.
“You have to stand still and respect it, don’t you?” Ms. Smyth said of her desire to commemorate the day. “Otherwise, if we more mature age people don’t keep it going, it will fade away. But fortunately, our youth are grabbing onto it.”
As a civil celebrant at home in Coffs Harbour, Australia, Ms. Smyth conducts ceremonies of many kinds, including weddings, funerals, and memorial services.
On Monday morning, Ms. Smyth delivered a heartfelt message of thanks to veterans from across the Island for their service in the many wars since Armistice Day for World War I in 1918, and for the support the U.S. military gave Australia throughout the years.
“Good morning to each and everyone of you, veterans and your families along with distinguished guests and members of this wonderful community all gathered for one common and deeply respectful purpose,” Ms. Smyth began. “We are three Australians who are so enjoying visiting, meeting, and chatting with your fellow Americans on our journey.”
“Today, importantly, we are deeply honored to share your Veterans Day, a day we believe very sincerely that enhances our relationship as fellow journeymen and women,” Ms. Smyth said as the brisk wind ripped at her notes.
“Today because of our ages, we say to you today, here in Oak Bluffs, thank you service personnel, in particular, for coming to our aid in World War II, a period in our history when we were frighteningly close to invasion. Our men and women were fighting in the European theater and we felt to an extent quite abandoned.”
She noted on the same date but one day earlier in Australia, her countrymen observed Remembrance Day. “So on this date we have exactly the same aims and wishes,” she said.
Ms. Smyth described herself and the O’Hallorans as “war babies.” They were all born around the time of World War II and their fathers served in the military. Ms. Smyth’s and Ms. O’Halloran’s fathers served in the Australian Air Force and Mr. O’Halloran’s father in the Australian Army.
“My father worked side by side with Americans patching up and repairing planes to keep them in the air for both our forces,” Ms. Smyth said. “So had you not stood beside us from 1941 onwards, we may have not been standing here with you today on your soil and enjoying your landscapes, your company, and above all, the peaceful lives we have enjoyed and are currently enjoying.
“We probably should also thank you for teaching our parents to Jitterbug during periods when your personnel were able to be on R&R during World War II, something my mother often remembered strongly.
“So today we honour yours and our deceased, we share your sadness, and we celebrate the living and their contribution to our individual communities, and above all we rejoice in the peace and the way of life we enjoy in each of our two countries.
“May I close please with our respectful Australian Remembrance Day ode which I imagine is not dissimilar to your own. I read it with a deep respect to each of you present here today.
“They went with songs to the battle,
they were young and straight of limb,
true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end
against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe,
They shall grow not old as
we who are left to grow old,
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn,
at the going down of the sun and
in the morning we shall remember them,
lest we forget.”