Memorial Day marked in Chilmark
"What do you do on Memorial Day?" chirped one young student.
"It's to celebrate the beginning of summer!" chimed in another.
"The army," one timid young man suggested.
With a light mist blanketing the area, approximately 50 Chilmark School students stood with in a semi-circle Friday, surrounding the oversized bell and three flags in front of Coast Guard Station Menemsha Friday morning.
William Crowley and Lance Nelligan, both third class boatswain mates, gave the schoolchildren a short tutorial on the origins and meanings of the holiday. "Some of the dates go in one ear and out the other, but I think they still get something out of it," Mr. Crowley said afterward.
Chilmark School students stood along Menemsha Creek Friday in celebration of Memorial Day. They marched, flower buds ion hand, to a dock and tossed the flowers into the water to honor fallen soldiers. Photo By Aubrey Gibavic
The Coast Guardsmen described the origin of the holiday, why it is important to remember soldiers who have died, and impressed the students with the fact that one million United States soldiers have died since 1775.
A quiet question and answer period in the beginning eventually turned into an exuberant conversation about the Coast Guard. The men were asked about their typical day, if the Coast Guard saved lives, and if there were any women in their crew.
"There's nothing routine about our day, except for cleaning," Mr. Nelligan said. He added that three women work in their station, and have the same qualifications and go through the same basic training as their male counterparts.
Several school children told the Coast Guardsmen about personal connections they had to the Coast Guard or military. One girl said a Coast Guard helicopter airlifted her to an off-Island hospital when she was born. Another said his grandfather went to war but didn't die, and wondered if this holiday for him, too.
The men described the meaning of the three flags flying high above the station: the United States flag, the POW-MIA and the Coast Guard's own colors.
Boatswain Nelligan explained that the Coast Guard's Latin motto, semper paratas, means "always ready. We have a minimum of five people at the station 24/7/365 to go out on the water and assist anyone who needs us," he said.
The men explained that Memorial Day is celebrated at the end of May so that flowers placed on the graves of fallen soldiers would be in bloom. With that, teachers handed each student a pink carnation; they were told to hold on tight and not drop the symbolic bud.
With tiny fingers wrapped around green stems, the students marched from the Coast Guard station down to Menemsha Harbor. Some were chatty, skipping along with groups of friends, while others appeared stoic, holding on tight to the blossom.
The students marched to a dock along Menemsha Harbor, winding their way through the dense fog. Leaning over the railing, not able to see more than 50 feet into the distance, the group observed a moment of silence. Then, on the count of three, the buds flew into the air and landed softly on the vapor-covered waters.
"I think the kids get a lot out of this," said Jack Regan, a second and third grade Chilmark School teacher, following the ceremony.