Students streamed from the front doors of the Edgartown School, students with smiling faces and fists full of flowers lining up with classmates in preparation of the annual March to the Sea in honor of Memorial Day.
Kindergarteners danced and laughed, parents handed flowers to their children as they stood with their classes, and the seventh and eighth graders took their respective places at the back and front of the line, as the parade stepped off. A few kids even started a chant of “Abraham Lincoln,” a nod to the tradition in Edgartown where eighth graders recite the Gettysburg Address.
Kindergartener Veyda Pearl clutched pink flowers beside her mom, younger brother, and classmates, adorned in a red, white, and blue ensemble. It was her first march this year, and she was excited to be a part of the moment, spotted dancing to the Edgartown Eagle band’s music during a later moment in the ceremony. Despite the cloud cover and gusts of wind, spirit and reverence was palpable from the student body.
For eighth grader Ingrid Gundersen, the speeches offered this year by Major James Hagerty, USMC and Edgartown town administrator, made the March to the Sea such a special event. For others, like eighth grader Julia Murray, the moment is a signal of the beginning of the summer.
With bouquets bigger than some students’ faces, parents and siblings in tow, and merchants looking on, students marched triumphantly down Main Street, ending at Memorial Wharf. There was a brief pause for students to pay respects outside the Dukes County Courthouse, where an honor roll of Island veterans of World War II is maintained. They arrived at the wharf to a crowd of onlookers, and the tune of patriotic music from the Edgartown Eagle band.
The school was joined by several members of the Edgartown School Committee and board of selectmen, Police Chief Bruce McNamee, and Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer.
For McNamee, it was his second year participating in the march. “It’s definitely one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to be a part of,” McNamee said. “I’m very fortunate that they include me.”
After a schoolwide recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, there was a special moment in this year’s ceremony when Edgartown residents 10th grader Ellie Dolby and her sister, seventh grader Caroline Dolby, paid tribute to their great-grandfather, Ted Morgan. Medic Staff Sgt. Fred “Ted” Morgan was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th parachute infantry regiment, and D-Day veteran, who died in April. Beyond his service to his country, Morgan was a prominent figure in Edgartown, especially during his long stint as a member of the board of selectmen, and made frequent speaking engagements at the March to the Sea.
“This Memorial Day, we are missing an important veteran,” Ellie said. “It means a lot to come back and to say words in his honor.”
On top of recitations of “O Captain! My Captain!” by the seventh grade, and the Gettysburg Address by the eighth grade, the Eagle band and Mark Lovewell offered musical performances that set the patriotic tone of the afternoon.
One of the many highlights included a speech by Hagerty, a 1997 graduate of the Edgartown School. “I have a lot of good memories participating in this march,” Hagerty said of his nine years participating in the tradition.
Hagerty, who spent eight years on active duty, including two tours in Iraq, said that as a kid, he didn’t appreciate what a powerful tradition the March to the Sea is. He reminded Edgartown students that young people, not much older than himself, joined him on the bus on the way to deployment during his tours.
“It’s not about the fighter jets, aircraft carriers, or submarines. It’s about the teenagers who get on that bus, knowing the sacrifices they are making,” Hagerty said.
He spoke of his classmate from the Edgartown School, Gunnery Sgt. Geann Pereira, who received a Medal of Honor for his heroism during deployment for rescuing several passengers from a helicopter crash. Pereira, a native of Brazil, served due to “a sense of gratitude for his adopted country,” said Hagerty, reminding students of their good fortune to be living in the place they do.
“This Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on the individual sacrifice that makes America a land of opportunity,” Hagerty said.
Seventh graders capped off the ceremony, walking through the crowd, collecting flowers to toss into the sea, in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. “We have a lot of flowers today,” said Principal John Stevens, “all the students brought them from home, there isn’t a safe lilac in the whole town.”
After the echo of “Taps” faded, students gathered their things and began their walk back to school. Set to retire this June, Stevens, reflecting on his last of many Marches to the Sea, said he was feeling mixed feelings, sad to be leaving behind a tradition so close to his heart, but excited for what’s to come.
Eighth graders felt largely the same, contemplating their last time participating in the tradition. “It’s a really sad and emotional moment for us,” said eighth grader Maggie Moffet.