Memorial Day parade honors service and sacrifice

Photo by Ralph Stewart

Ignoring dark skies and intermittent rain, a large crowd turned out Monday morning in Tisbury for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Memorial Day parade and ceremony to pay tribute to those who died in their nation’s service.

The parade stepped off at 10 am from American Legion Post 257, opposite Tisbury School, led by a color guard from U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Station Menemsha that included SN Nicole Cancellare, SN Kodi Curles, BM3 Johnathan Loeckel, and BM3 Jerry Tingle. Military veterans, joined by members of the Island police departments, State Police, emergency response personnel from several Island towns, Tisbury selectmen, and a large contingent of Boy and Girl Scouts, then marched to the nearby Oak Grove cemetery.

Jo Ann Murphy, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services, emceed the ceremony that followed. Lt. Col. David Berube, the Oak Bluffs Police Department’s chaplain and a chaplain in the Massachusetts National Guard, opened with a prayer in memory of the nation’s fallen.

“We are humbled to be the recipients of the blessings their self-sacrifice helps protect, that is, our nation’s ideals of liberty, justice, equality, and unity,” Lt. Col. Berube said.

In continuance of a several year tradition, Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Girl Scout leader Alice Robinson of Tisbury led everyone in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Guest speaker Boatswain’s Mate Senior Chief Jason Olsen, Station Menemsha’s officer in charge, spoke about the origin and meaning of Memorial Day.

“On this Memorial Day we pause to observe and remember all those who have given their lives in service to their nation,” he said. “We honor their sacrifice by dedicating ourselves every day to our nation, and the principles for which it stands.”

Chief Olsen noted that Memorial Day began in the aftermath of the Civil War as Decoration Day, to commemorate Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. By the 20th century, he said Memorial Day had been extended to honor all men and women who died while in military service and to remember their sacrifices.

“Also remember there are men and women who come back from combat with mental and physical disabilities who may not die in war, but unfortunately die later on from their combat,” Chief Olsen said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Ms. Murphy noted this was the 22nd Memorial Day that veterans and community volunteers have placed American flags, which now number 450, along the cemetery’s Avenue of Flags in honor of veterans. She then read the names of 41 Island veterans who died since last Memorial Day.

Afterwards, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary president Linda Voluckas, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Capt. Gene De Felice, and Gold Star wife Renee Ortiz placed wreaths at the Avenue of Flags honoring those killed in World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. American Legion Post 257 Commander Vernon Oliver placed a wreath at the Avenue of Flags directory of veterans.

Jason Robinson, a lieutenant in the Tisbury Fire Department, laid a wreath at a memorial to first responders who died in the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001. Before reading “The Fireman’s Prayer,” Tisbury firefighter Jeff Pratt thanked Ed Colligan, a retired Tisbury fire captain, former American Legion post commander, and veteran, in absentia for “his many, many years of dedicated service to his community, his town, his legion and his country.”

Mr. Pratt also paid tribute to Boston firefighters Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, who died March 26 while fighting a fire in the Back Bay.

The ceremony concluded with “Taps,” played on trumpets by American Legion member Edson Rodgers and Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, followed by a gun salute.

On the parade group’s return from the cemetery to the American Legion, past Post Commander Kevan Nichols laid a wreath at the Civil War Monument in the cemetery. A similar observance took place at the memorial to U.S. Merchant Marines on the grounds of the American Legion.