BARRE — Things didn’t stop in the Granite City on Thursday, but they slowed down for more than an hour as local veterans stood in the shadow of “Youth Triumphant” and counted themselves among the lucky and the grateful.
While most of the country was working, Barre-area veterans paused to commemorate Memorial Day in familiar fashion — with a brief parade, followed by a ceremony that was a little longer than usual due to the number of speakers this year.
No one complained.
Not 93-year-old Tim Hoyt, the only World War II veteran who attended the event this year, and not Wayne Pelkey, 87, who served in the Korean War and hitched a ride with Hoyt because his marching days are over.
Pelkey’s days of remembering the nation’s wardead — a figure that now tops 1.1 million — aren’t over, which is why he was among those who took a seat next to the kneeling, naked granite warrior that serves as the backdrop for Memorial Day in Barre.
Melvin McKnight, commander of the American Legion Post 10, got the ceremony off to a suitably somber start recounting the genesis of “Decoration Day,” which morphed into Memorial Day and had long been celebrated on May 30 until it was declared a national holiday in 1971.
It’s still celebrated on May 30 in Barre, where McKnight welcomed a crowd to the wreath-laying ceremony.
“Today we pay tribute to those historic patriots who have made the ultimate sacrifice who bravely rose up and fought for something greater than themselves protecting a home to which they’d never return,” McKnight said. “We honor their service, we mourn their loss and we remember the families they left behind.”
McKnight invited everyone to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and after the Spaulding High School band performed the National Anthem he turned the microphone over to Steve Weston, chaplain at Post 10.
Though traffic wasn’t moving on North Main Street during the duration of the ceremony, a passing train tooted through Weston’s invocation, which included excerpts from a prayer President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered during a 75-year-old national radio address on what is now known as D-Day.
Mayor Lucas Herring spoke next.
Herring leaned on patriotic platitudes — “All gave some, some gave all,” “We don’t know them all, but we owe them all,” and “Home of the free because of the brave” — early on in his address before marveling at the sacrifice of those “who left a legacy of freedom and democracy.”
“Those we remember today come from every gender, race and religion and are a diverse group wedded to a common principle that America is a nation worth dying for,” he said. “In making the ultimate sacrifice they’ve made a difference in all of our lives and for that we remember them here today.”
Chuck Barney, chairman of the Barre Area Veterans Council, followed Herring to the podium keeping a promise to read the names of those for whom recently installed flags that line both sides of North Main Street were donated.
It wasn’t a one-man job.
Barney, Chip Paine, Ron and Susan Tallman, and Dan Whitaker all took turns reading the names of dozens of flag donors and those for whom they had donated the flags, with Barney returning to finish the list and express his appreciation.
“It’s quite an honor to come down Main Street and see the flags flying to honor all … the poor souls that gave up their lives for us today — the true Memorial Day,” he said.
Paine, Ron Tallman and Whitaker all returned to the podium to make brief remarks between performances by the bands from Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Barre Town Middle and Elementary School and Spaulding High School, before McKnight recognized all veterans in attendance.
Ernest Sargent recited a pair of poems before Elizabeth Perrault and Maisie Lajeunesse laid the wreath at the base “Youth Triumphant” while two Spaulding students — one in City Hall Park and the other on the steps of the Aldrich Public Library — played “Echo Taps.”
That ate up the first 45 minutes and set the stage for Col. Albert “Albie” Lewis, who lives in Berlin and was invited to deliver this year’s Memorial Day address.
“Of the 1.1 million-plus men and women who have died in American military service, the vast majority are ‘everyday heroes,’” Lewis said. “They are brothers and sisters who fought for us, who have left unfillable holes in families, communities and hearts across the country.
“Their friendships, their bravery and their commitment to duty will never be lost,” he added.
Like those who spoke before him, Lewis thanked veterans for their service, urged others to do the same and stressed Memorial Day should be “a day of remembrance and reflection,” not the tail-end of a three-day weekend.
“Memorial Day is more than a holiday or a day off,” he said. “It is a chance to reconnect to the genesis of our nation’s innumerous freedoms. It is an important day on which we ground ourselves to the reality that every Gold Star Family knows: Our way of life has been shaped and made possible by those who were lost.”
Following Lewis’ speech Susan Tallman read a poem, all three bands performed again and Weston offered a closing prayer that wasn’t interrupted by a passing train before the road that runs through downtown Barre was reopened and veterans like Hoyt and Pelkey headed home.