“Somebody smiled on us after two years of rain,” laughed Dukes County Veteran Agent Jo Ann Murphy to the dozens of people gathered in Tisbury Monday morning for the annual Memorial Day Parade.
Veterans of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts joined together to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives for their country, in a parade along Pine Tree Road and into Oak Grove Cemetery, where for the 27th year, the avenue of flags, 450 strong, fluttered in the wind.
As they prepared to step off from the American Legion at 10:30 am, participants caught up with one another and discussed the significance of the day. Patrick Fries, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, is a visitor to the Island who joins in the parade each year when he visits.
“At home, I ran a lot of these parades; now, I’m lucky to get to take part in them,” Fries said. “It means a lot.”
Griffin Craig proudly wore a hat from the USS Saratoga, as he hugged his father waiting for the parade to start. James Craig is a police officer in Edgartown, and was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy. He has been taking part in the parade for 25 years, ever since he returned to the Island in 1994. Griffin was wearing his hat.
“You know, I say to my family and friends, it’s OK if you can’t come out for Veterans Day, or Armed Forces Day, but Memorial Day is different. Memorial Day isn’t about us. I make sure that my family and friends show up,” James Craig said.
As the parade made its way down the street to the tune of Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee’s bagpipes, onlookers cheered and waved flags in support.
At the ceremony in Oak Grove Cemetery, U.S. Marine veteran Jeff Spear, who fought in the battle of Khe Sahn and received a Purple Heart for his service, reminded the crowd what Memorial Day means, through its history and intimate significance for many. Of importance to Spear is the one-minute moment of pause, to remember those lost in the line of duty, one of his favorite tributes being the blasting of the Amtrak horns for that whole minute, a tradition upheld to this day.
“It puzzles me when people thank me for my service on this day,” Spear said. “This day is for those who are not here to celebrate with us.”
For many, this last Monday of May means the beginning of summer, evident in the number of tourists who flocked to the Vineyard in droves this past weekend. Spear reminded the crowd that while there may be two minds on the significance of the weekend, the one that matters is that which honors the 1.3 million who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
In 1968, Spear had to carry the body of his buddy, Charlie, to the CH46 chopper waiting to take away the dead Marines killed in Khe Sahn. For him, the day signifies not only his firsthand experience and reverence for those who gave their lives, but all the “good DNA lost, and all the family members who never were.”
“Memorial Day reminds us that freedom isn’t free,” said Spear, reminding those gathered to take pause this afternoon, “and maybe even listen for that Amtrak whistle blowing.”