Rain didn't dampen Martha’s Vineyard’s Memorial Day observance

Retired Tisbury Fire Captain Mike Carroll places a wreath in honor of in honor of first responders who died in the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001. — Sam Moore

Intermittent rain and wind on Monday morning forced a change in venue for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Memorial Day parade and ceremony. Rather than march up Pine Street to Oak Grove Cemetery, the parade group lined up in the Tisbury School gym to carry on the Island’s longstanding holiday observance, hosted by American Legion Post 257.

“Today is a day to honor those that have taken up arms to fight and die for our way of life,” guest speaker Robert Riemer, Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate (BMSC) and officer in charge of U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha, reminded the large crowd that filled the gym.

A color guard from Station Menemsha posted an American flag. They were joined by military veterans, members of the Island police departments, State Police, Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, emergency responders, and American Legion and Legion Auxiliary members at the front of the gymnasium. Tisbury’s three selectmen and a large group of Boy and Girl Scouts also attended.

Jo Ann Murphy, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services, event organizer, introduced Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, who returned to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as she has volunteered to do for the past eight years.

American Legion Post 257 Chaplain Robert Barnett offered an opening prayer. “Grant that we may appreciate and treasure freedom; grant that we may never forget the great price of its purchase for us all,” he prayed. “Let the sacrifices of our fallen comrades be not in vain.”

The Boy and Girl Scouts led those in attendance in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Ms. Murphy then introduced Senior Chief Riemer, who has served in the Coast Guard since 1991 and took command of Station Menemsha in 2014, with responsibility for a crew of 21 men and women currently assigned there. Their area of responsibility includes the waters west to the Rhode Island border, 50 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Buzzard’s Bay, and Vineyard Sound.

Senior Chief Riemer recalled that the Coast Guard’s sole Medal of Honor recipient was Signalman Second Class Douglas Munro. He was killed in World War II while acting as the coxswain of a landing craft that rescued Marines from a beachhead on Guadalcanal.

Chief Riemer said preparing his speech led him to revisit the history of Memorial Day, created by Major General John A. Logan after the Civil War. Dubbed Decoration Day, it was first observed on May 30, 1868. Memorial Day was created as a Federal holiday by an act of Congress in 1971.

“For many Americans, today is merely a day off from work and a good day to have a barbeque and be with family,” Chief Riemer said. “These are wonderful activities, and we should take time for them. We also should take time to reflect on the cost of those freedoms, and express some gratitude for those who have died to protect them.”

He suggested that as a way to do that, upon leaving, everyone should walk through a cemetery somewhere, either on the Island or at home.

“When you do that, stop at the grave of a fallen service member, read their stone, and know that they gave a full measure of their life to protect our country, our rights, and our way of life,” Chief Riemer said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Tony Peak played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Ms. Murphy then read the names of 25 Island veterans who died since last Memorial Day. She noted that it has been 24 years since the American Legion created the Avenue of Flags at Oak Grove Cemetery in honor and memory of veterans. In years past, veterans and community volunteers have placed 450 American flags along the avenue. Monday’s rain, however, forced the cancellation of the longstanding tradition.

A wreath-laying ceremony followed. American Legion Post 257 Commander John Hirt, American Legion Auxiliary president Carrie Welch, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Lance Corporal Woody Williams, and past Post 257 commanders Vernon “Buddy” Oliver and Kevan Nichols placed wreaths on stands near the stage honoring those killed in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam and the Civil War.

Captain Richard Reinhardsen placed a wreath in honor of Merchant Marines killed in service.

Captain Richard Reinhardsen placed a wreath in honor of Merchant Marines killed in service.

Retired Tisbury Fire Department Captain Mike Carroll and Edgartown Fire Department Captain Richard Kelly placed a wreath in honor of first responders who died in the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001. Tisbury firefighter Jeff Pratt read “The Fireman’s Prayer,” and asked everyone to remember police officers who recently lost their lives in the line of duty.

The wreath-laying ceremony ended with “Taps,” played by Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling on trumpet, followed by a three-volley gun salute by two Coast Guardsmen just outside an open gymnasium door.