Memorial Day in Marblehead — 2016

Because of a rainstorm moving up the coast overnight, our parade was cancelled and the ceremonies moved indoors to the Abbot Hall auditorium. (When I was a selectman, we never had rain on Memorial Day.) It was unfortunate that the units that make up the parade were unable to participate, except for the band which comes from Lawrence. They provided music before the program began and provided the national anthem, “Marblehead Forever,” and “God Bless America” at the end.

The ceremonies began with the advancing of the colors from the rear of the auditorium followed by an excellent invocation by Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El. Next was the laying of wreaths by various officials, including Roger Hamson the honorary grand marshal, our speakers, Congressman Moulton in his marine uniform, and various Town officials. Our speakers were two Grader cousins, both Marine Corps veterans. (See this story for brief biographical information.) The first speaker was Lt. Col. Derek Grader, who had served in the Middle East. He spoke specifically of the holiday as one honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our country. He gave three specific examples of individuals he had known in the service. Two were people he had met during his service, good people whose deaths he grieved. The third was a classmate of his from Marblehead, Chris Piper. All three left children behind when they were killed. He made the point with these examples that the people whose memories we honor are not numbers in a toll or names on a page or monument: they are individuals with their own life stories; they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. It was a very poignant speech.

Next, Capt. Moses Grader spoke of our military as citizen soldiers. In the oath of enlistment they freely take they swear “to defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” — not the United States, not a king or queen, idea or ideology. This, he said, is unique. It is the Constitution which guarantees our rights and liberties as citizens and makes the United States exceptional. Thus what they defend is those rights and liberties. In swearing to obey the orders of the President and the officers above them in the chain of command and the regulations of the service, they give up some of their freedoms and liberties as citizens in order to defend those freedoms and liberties for their fellow citizens. Because of the burden of service which they willingly  undertake, it is appropriate that the oath concluded with an invocation of God’s help in fulfilling it. It was a thought-provoking speech. Both speeches were well received.

Then Dave Rogers, our Veterans Agent, read the roll of the veterans who had died since Memorial Day, 2015. It amazes me that there are still dozens of World War II veterans whose names are read every year. It seems as if most of our young men at the time must have served. The playing of Taps followed the reading of the names of the deceased. After a fine benediction by Rabbi Meyer, the musical selections and the retiring of the colors concluded the ceremonies.

I’m very proud of Marblehead for the way we observe Memorial Day every year. Other towns may do something similar; I’m not familiar with their observances. But what matters to me is that my town maintains such a fine tradition, reminding ourselves on this day, and again on Veterans Day, of the gratitude we owe to those who served in our armed forces and, especially today, those who gave their lives for us. It’s good that that we honor them as we do.

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