Vineyarders applauded and shouted words of gratitude as the procession of veterans, emergency response personnel, and young Scouts marched down Pine Tree Road for the 29th annual Memorial Day Parade in Tisbury.
Hosted by American Legion Post 257, spectators and participants moved from West William Street toward Oak Grove Cemetery’s Avenue of Flags, where a ceremony was held under a cloudless, breezy Monday morning. The flags were set at half-staff, and were put up to full-staff at noon.
The Tisbury Police Department provided an escort and managed the traffic for the parade. First responder leaders also participated in the march, like Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle. Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee’s bagpiping sounded clearly as the parade got closer to the ceremony location.
Legion commander Jo Ann Murphy led the order of events, welcoming and thanking those who came out to support veterans and service members.
Walter Burke, a chaplain, led a prayer honoring service members who passed away, making a call for no more violence, and asking God to give remaining families peace. “May their example of sacrifice inspire us,” he prayed.
This year’s guest speaker was the Rev. Steven Harding from Grace Episcopal Church, who is also the chaplain for the Tisbury Fire Department and Ambulance Service. He said several family members of his served in the American armed forces, from his great-grandfather in Panama to his brother serving as an orthopedist in the U.S. Army Reserve. Harding asked for those who served and died, from training accidents to suicide, to be remembered, and for the families with a missing member to be honored.
“All of them wore the uniform,” he said. “We remember them today.”
Harding held a moment of silence for dead service members and veterans.
“May we be worthy of their sacrifice,” he said.
Harding also called for the younger people and the Scouts present to find “something to serve that is bigger than you are,” such as volunteering.
Afterward, Murphy read a list of veterans who died over the past year. The ringing shots from the firing detail honored the deceased, as “Taps” was played. McNamee followed with “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes. Onlookers solemnly watched the ceremony take place.
The ceremony concluded with wreaths being placed on various monuments — from the Civil War to 9/11 — before the procession made its way back to the American Legion building.
Murphy told The Times in front of the Legion building that although there are “so many” advertisements for Memorial Day sales, and a buzz about three-day weekends, people need to remember why these activities take place: the people who served.
“People forget that’s why we have a three-day weekend, for all of the men and women who lost their lives,” she said. However, Murphy was encouraged by the number of people who showed up during the parade, and by those who volunteered to put up the flags. Additionally, seeing the Islanders from all over the Vineyard showed the day held meaning for people.
Additionally, Murphy said it was important for the Island to continue the Memorial Day tradition so it will not be lost. She thinks more people came out than the previous year.
Tisbury Select Board member Christina Colarusso highlighted the sacrifices of the U.S. Merchant Marines in World War II. According to Department of Defense News, nearly 250,000 merchant mariners served in the war as a part of the U.S. military, and 9,521 died while serving, giving them a higher casualty rate than any other U.S. military branch. WWII merchant mariners were recognized last year with the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It’s always nice when they do have the Merchant Marine flag or Merchant Marine memorial,” Colarusso, who was in the Merchant Marines as an engineer, said.
For many veterans, Memorial Day was a time to remember friends who did not make it back home with them.
“I lost a couple of friends down in ’Nam, and I like to remember them,” said Randy Ditson, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “Everybody is getting older. It’s been 50 years since I’ve been off to war. Everybody’s just getting old.”
Kenny Givens, who served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, came from Connecticut to see the Vineyard veteran community. “I lost a lot of buddies,” he said. “Memorial Day is a special day.”