Martha’s Vineyard commemorates Memorial Day

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Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard observed Memorial Day Monday in a solemn ceremony held at Oak Grove Cemetery In Tisbury, punctuated by the poignant remarks of James S. Craig, an Edgartown police officer and Naval reservist, who called to mind long-lost comrades.

Mr. Craig, guest speaker for the occasion of honoring the nation’s fallen military members, said that while he and his fellow veterans appreciated what attention they received, it was those not present the holiday is meant to honor.

“We lived to stand here today, and remind you that our brothers and sisters did not,” Mr. Craig said. “That is our purpose here today, not to be honored ourselves, but to serve as a visual reminder of those who, in the prime of their life, gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Veterans young and old, 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 to the cemetery at 9:30 am.

Tisbury Police officer Chris Habekost and Oak Bluffs Police officer Michael Marchand led the way on motorcycles followed by a color guard made up of members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars that included Chris Averill, Bob Holt, Ray Rochon, Richard Monaco, and Martin “Skip” Tomassian. U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha also provided a color guard that included SM Nicole Cancellare, MK3 Robert Deville, FN Whitley Steele, and BM3 Michael Windham.

The parade formation that included Daisys, Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts, and town officials marched along Pine Tree Road to Oak Grove Cemetery where more than 400 American flags whipped in the stiff, warm breeze.

Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Her strong, clear voice echoed across the stillness of the cemetery.

Representatives from the community and the branches of military services 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, clouds threatened but did not deliver rain. High humidity was thought responsible for fainting by three parade-goers. Emergency medical service personnel involved in the parade provided immediate assistance.

A lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Mr. Craig, the guest speaker, served as a helicopter pilot and training and operations officer for a helicopter antisubmarine squadron. He flew 38 direct combat-support missions during Operation Desert Storm.

In his remarks (available in their entirety at mvtimes.com), Mr. Craig, a resident of Edgartown, drew a distinction for the large crowd of onlookers of all ages between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“It is Memorial Day, and we stand facing you today not to be honored ourselves, but rather to serve as a sort of visual aid, a reminder of what might have been, had the people we are actually here to celebrate not been taken before their time,” Mr. Craig said.

“So I ask you now, as you look upon our assembly of veterans, to imagine in your mind a second formation of men and women. Standing beside each veteran, invisible to you, but seared permanently into our minds, is a fallen comrade. Please, look at your veterans, and in your mind’s eye, try to see that other soldier or sailor, Marine or airman, standing in formation beside us today.”

Mr. Craig referenced three Island residents who had survived the rigors of war and those he said were in attendance beside them, unseen but not forgotten. And he spoke of the figure who accompanied him that morning.

“I stand before you now in the shadow of Lieutenant Rich Calderon, United States Navy, Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 11, who perished along with three other crewmen when his helicopter crashed into the sea on October 9th, 1991. He was 26 years old. Rich hasn’t left my side, hasn’t left my mind since the day he died.

“I realize that you can’t see him, but although he has been gone now almost twenty years, I can describe him for you as if I had seen him only yesterday. Rich is about six feet tall, has wavy black hair, dark skin and brown eyes, and he smiles at almost anything. His smile is what would make you remember him, and he wore it all the time. Nothing seemed to ever get him down.

“I left the Navy and returned to our community, where I live and work beside you. Each day, I live. Each day, I get older. I lead a full life, and within the year I shall turn 50 years old, and my children will be there to celebrate the day with me.

“And Rich? Rich is forever 26 years old and as handsome as can be. He’s smiling at us right now. Do you see him? Do you see all of the men and women standing beside your veterans today? I can see them all, and I, like you, am here to say to them, thank you. You are not forgotten.

“Soon this ceremony will end, and your veterans will march back to the Legion Hall. Beside each man and woman in our parade, a silent shadow will walk. Though still young and sprightly, these shadows will march at the gentler pace we older veterans set. As we pass by, the people of Martha’s Vineyard will applaud, men beside the road will doff their hats, and we veterans will feel a sense of pride. Not for ourselves, of course, for this is not Veteran’s Day. Rather we feel pride in our community. For each of you have come here today to remember with us. We know that you too see the shadows beside us, and that you applaud for them, not for us. We are just stand-ins today, visual reminders of the sacrifices our friends made, so that we, each and every one of us, can enjoy this glorious day.

“On behalf of the veterans of Martha’s Vineyard, and in honor of our armed forces currently operating around the world, I thank you all for your participation here today.”

Memorial Day remarks by Lt. James S. Craig, USNR:

I generally don’t presume to speak for others, but I think it’s safe to say that every Veteran standing now before you appreciates your presence here today. I know that I for one feel humbled and honored during the short march from the Legion Hall to this Avenue of Flags, whenever a citizen applauds, or thanks us for our service, or simply removes his or her hat as our national colors pass by. As that happens, I confess that a sense of pride wells up inside me, but I feel no pride for myself, rather I am proud to live in a community where so many people show up every year, rain or shine, to help us pay tribute to those who are unable to be with us today.

Once our procession turns onto the Avenue of Flags, the mood becomes more solemn. The applause dies down, the crowd settles in, and we veterans come to a halt in front of these memorials. A sharp right face — as sharp as we can muster these days anyway — and our detail of veterans stands before you.

Once we are assembled, I expect many of you gaze upon your veterans and feel the same sense of gratitude for their service and sacrifice that I do. And while I assure you, that we all truly appreciate your support I remind you that today is not Veteran’s Day. It is Memorial Day, and we stand facing you today not to be honored ourselves, but rather to serve as a sort of visual aid, a reminder of what might have been, had the people we are actually here to celebrate not been taken before their time.

I’d like for you all to take a good look at the veterans now assembled before you, or at the many veterans scattered around us within the crowd. Some are here today in the guise of civilians, others in their uniforms as firefighters or police officers.

We span several generations, and might seem to you a motley crew, some of us in uniform, others not, some steady on our feet, others held up mainly by steadfast devotion to our purpose here today. There are fresh faces out there, while others are more weathered; but young or old, every veteran before you has a story. And the story which many of them are remembering right now, the story which few would be comfortable sharing with you, is the story of the person whom they are here today to represent. We veterans are here this day, to stand in for our brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice, and thus cannot be here themselves. We are here, because they are not so we take their place today to honor their sacrifice.

So I ask you now, as you look upon our assembly of veterans, to imagine in your mind a second formation of men and women. Standing beside each veteran, invisible to you, but seared permanently into our minds, is a fallen comrade. Please, look at your veterans and in your mind’s eye, try to see that other soldier or sailor, Marine or airman, standing in formation beside us today. Do you see them? They are younger than the rest of us, averaging about 23 years old, and they are a sharp-looking lot. Their pressed uniforms fit perfectly, their hair is short, their eyes are bright. They are the youth of America, the best we have to offer. They are in this vision, what we veterans once were.

But we grew up and they did not. For many of us, time has etched lines on our faces, what hair remains has thinned and grayed, our eyes have dimmed somewhat and our hearts are heavier, because we carry within them the memories of our fallen friends.

But we lived. We lived to stand here today, and remind you that our brothers and sisters did not. That is our purpose here today; not to be honored ourselves, but to serve as a visual reminder of those who, in the prime of their life, gave the last full measure of devotion.

Not every veteran here experienced the full force of combat, and neither were all of our friends slain on the field of battle. During the first Gulf War, three fellow aviators from my carrier were shot down and killed during combat operations. Yet, during that same era, three other pilots from my flight school class perished while training for wars, which they themselves would never see. The military is an inherently dangerous occupation, whether you are actually fighting the enemy, or simply preparing to do so.

Still more men and woman survive their initial contact with war, only to yield in later years to injuries or illnesses brought home from the battle field. And increasingly, our fighting men and woman return home from war physically intact, only to be consumed from within by demons, until they lose their grip on this life. However they perished, they all died for us, and they are all with us here today.

I hope you see them now, standing beside our group of veterans. We are all here to thank and remember them. Anonymous though they may be to you, they are the very reason you are here today. To help you visualize them, I’d like to now share with you just a few of their names.

Though retired from the Air Force, Colonel Ted Morgan was enlisted in the Army during World War Two, and beside him today stands his fellow medic, Buddy Fowlkes, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, killed in Holland during Operation Market Garden in September of 1944. Buddy was just 22 years old.

The 82nd Airborne Division alone lost 1,432 men during Operation Market-Garden.

Standing beside Sergeant Greg Spain is his childhood friend, Lance Corporal Douglas Royster, 1st Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, killed in action against the enemy while attempting to save the life of another Marine, June 26, 1966 in the Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. Doug was 19 years old. 138 Marines died in Vietnam that month.

Stan Mercer is accompanied today by Major Ron Stetler, United States Air Force, who was the Commander of the Operational Maintenance Squadron at Ching Chuan Kang Airbase in Taiwan. Ron died when his C-130 aircraft crashed into a mountain after take-off from Taipei, October the 2nd, 1970. Ron, who was posthumously promoted to Lt. Colonel, was 38 years old. Forty-three American servicemen perished in that crash.

Lieutenant Commander Tom Rancich can’t be with us here today, as he is giving the Memorial Day speech in his own hometown. But he assured me that wherever he is on this day, he stands shoulder to shoulder with his friend Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, United States Navy, SEAL Team 2, killed in combat in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan on March 4, 2002. Neil was 32 years old. Six additional fighting men died in the successful battle to recover Neil and bring him home.

I myself stand before you now in the shadow of Lieutenant Rich Calderon, United States Navy, Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 11, who perished along with three other crewmen when his helicopter crashed into the sea on October 9th, 1991. He was 26 years old. Rich hasn’t left my side, hasn’t left my mind since the day he died.

I realize that you can’t see him, but although he has been gone now almost twenty years, I can describe him for you as if I had seen him only yesterday. Rich is about six feet tall, has wavy black hair, dark skin and brown eyes, and he smiles at almost anything. His smile is what would make you remember him, and he wore it all the time. Nothing seemed to ever get him down.

I left the Navy and returned to our community, where I live and work beside you. Each day, I live. Each day, I get older. I lead a full life, and within the year I shall turn 50 years old, and my children will be there to celebrate the day with me.

And Rich? Rich is forever 26 years old and as handsome as can be. He’s smiling at us right now. Do you see him? Do you see all of the men and women standing beside your veterans today? I can see them all, and I, like you, am here to say to them, thank you. You are not forgotten.

Soon this ceremony will end, and your veterans will march back to the Legion Hall. Beside each man and woman in our parade, a silent shadow will walk. Though still young and sprightly, these shadows will march at the gentler pace we older veterans set. As we pass by, the people of Martha’s Vineyard will applaud, men beside the road will doff their hats, and we veterans will feel a sense of pride. Not for ourselves of course; for this is not Veteran’s Day. Rather we feel pride in our community. For each of you have come here today to remember with us. We know that you too see the shadows beside us, and that you applaud for them, not for us. We are just stand-ins today, visual reminders of the sacrifices our friends made, so that we, each and every one of us, can enjoy this glorious day.

On behalf of the veterans of Martha’s Vineyard, and in honor of our armed forces currently operating around the world, I thank you all for your participation here today.