Memorial Day parade, ceremonies paid tribute to military service and sacrifice

The Island community honored the nation's fallen heroes with a ceremony at Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven Monday.

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Behind a billowing American flag, marchers in the annual Memorial Day parade walked to Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven. Due to weather, the parade has been moved to the Tisbury school gym. — File photo by Michael Cummo

A large crowd gathered in Tisbury under sunny skies as flags fluttered in a light breeze Monday morning for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Memorial Day parade and ceremony to pay tribute to those who died in service to the nation.

It was a day that brought to mind the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Civil War veteran. In his remarks, guest speaker Navy Reserve Commander Paul J. Brawley quoted the famed jurist: “Every year in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life, there comes a pause and, through the silence, we hear the lonely pipe of death.”

A color guard from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha took the lead as the parade stepped off at 10 am from American Legion Post 257, opposite Tisbury School. Military veterans, joined by members of the Island police departments, State Police, Dukes County Sheriff’s office, emergency response personnel, the three Tisbury selectmen, and a large contingent of Boy and Girl Scouts, then marched up Pine Street to the nearby Oak Grove cemetery.

JoAnn Murphy, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services, emceed the ceremony that followed. Girl Scout Sylvi Carroll and Boy Scout William Hermann raised then lowered the American flag to half-mast.

In keeping with a several year tradition, Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) David Berube, a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and also for American Legion Post 257, offered an opening prayer.

“We are thankful we live in a land of freedom and great opportunity,” Lt. Col. Berube said. “On this day we are especially thankful for those who have made the supreme sacrifice in defense of those blessings and that freedom. We are humbled by their gift of absolute devotion on our behalf and we pray that we may always emulate their example in our daily service and citizenship.”

Boy Scout J.J. Polleys led everyone in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Ms. Murphy’s introduction of Commander (Cdr.) Brawley. Currently assigned to the Navy Office of Community Outreach, his unit serves as the central point for coordinating outreach programs throughout the continental U.S., involving Navy assets such as ships, the Blue Angels, Navy SEALs, and Navy bands. He will retire in June, after serving more than 23 years of active duty and reserve service.

“Together, we gather to remember America’s sons and daughters who sacrificed everything in the defense of our nation,” Cdr. Brawley said.

“Every Memorial Day, America is reminded of these selfless individuals, America’s quiet heroes,” he added. “We also think of America’s new generation of defenders, protecting the nation’s interests in every corner of the globe, preserving our freedoms and our way of life. They work for a more peaceful and hopeful world.”

In his civilian capacity, Cdr. Brawley is a Service Officer for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services in the VA’s Providence Regional Office. He reminded the assembly that Memorial Day is not only a day to honor veterans who died in service and their families, but also to remember veterans and their families who are alive in our communities today.

“Every day in cities and towns across the Commonwealth and the nation, even after our veterans take off their uniforms, they never stop serving,” he noted. “Many apply the skills and experience they developed on the battlefield to a life of service here at home. They take on roles in their communities as doctors and police officers, engineers and entrepreneurs, and mothers and fathers.”

Cdr. Brawley said he is proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in providing benefits and services to veterans and their families. “The citizens of the Commonwealth spend more per capita on their veterans than any other state in the nation.”

At the conclusion of Cdr. Brawley’s remarks, Tony Peake played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

Ms. Murphy noted that it was the 23rd Memorial Day that veterans and community volunteers had placed American flags, which numbered more than 450, along the cemetery’s Avenue of Flags in honor and memory of veterans. She said only one name, that of William P. Silvia, a deceased U.S. Army veteran of World War II, was added to the Avenue of Flags directory this year. Ms. Murphy then read the names of 32 Island veterans who had died since last Memorial Day.

Joe Gervais of West Tisbury concluded the solemn tribute by singing “If You’re Reading This,” a musical tribute to families of fallen soldiers by American country music artist Tim McGraw.

A wreath-laying ceremony followed. American Legion Post 257 Commander Vernon Oliver, American Legion Auxiliary president Carrie Welch, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) veteran Captain Gene De Felice, and Gold Star wife Renee Ortiz placed wreaths at the Avenue of Flags directory honoring those killed in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

Retired Tisbury Fire Department assistant chief Russell Maciel laid a wreath at a memorial to first responders who died in the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001. Tisbury firefighter Jeff Pratt read “The Fireman’s Prayer.” ,American Legion member Edson Rodgers and Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling played “Taps” on trumpets, followed by a gun salute.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from veteran Staff Sgt. Michael Blake, U.S. Army.

“To me and a lot of other combat veterans here, Memorial Day is every day for us,” he said. “Every day we think about those we’ve lost, those we’ve served with, and things of that nature. What a lot of people are not aware of is that when we hang up the uniform, the fight’s not over for a lot of guys.

“I don’t know if anyone is aware,” he added, “but in our country 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day.”

Mr. Blake said next Saturday, May 30, he and a group of other veterans, military personnel, and first responders will participate in the second annual “Carry the Fallen,” a 26.2 mile rucksack march around a portion of the Vineyard as a fundraiser to help raise awareness of veterans’ suicides. The march begins at the Oak Bluffs VFW Post at 6:30 am and concludes there at 4 pm with a reception open to the public.

On the parade group’s return to the American Legion, past Post Commander Kevan Nichols laid a wreath at the Civil War Monument in the cemetery. He received assistance from his granddaughter, Aileen Mahoney, age 9, and grandson Seamus Mahoney, age 4, who live in Aquinnah with their parents Melissa and Jim Mahoney.