State Rep. Richard Neal spoke at the Memorial Day ceremony in Lenox. See more pictures here.
LENOX, Mass. — Seaman Luke Griswold of Springfield sailed two boats full of sailors to safety from the sinking USS Monitor during the Civil War, then was blown off course and lost for hours in a gale until a passing ship found him.
His actions were recognized with a Medal of Honor. But after his death in 1892, he was buried in a grave that bore just the number 297. Not until the past April 30, 121 years after his death, was he remembered.
It is these stories, and hundreds like them and the "silent ones," that U.S. Rep. Richard Neal called on Lenox residents Monday to remember during the town's Memorial Day parade and ceremony.
It was a Memorial Day, certainly, that brought focus on the county's most recent losses. In less than year, the war in Afghanistan had claimed two soldiers — Spc. Michael DeMarsico III of North Adams and Spc. Mitchell Daehling of Dalton — while a training accident had killed a Marine with Berkshire roots, R.J. Muchnick, and the tragic death of veteran Edward Passetto of Pittsfield had highlighted the difficulty those returning home have in getting the help the need.
They were not forgotten during the day's events.
"The best things that happen in America every single day don't necessarily happen in Washington or Boston. They happen right here in settings like this with people just like you," Neal said. "In the town hall, in the local church or synagogue or in the local public and private schools, is where the great things in America play out every day and we can thank those men and women who in times of peril chose to defend us and the principles in the Constitution we all love."
He asked residents to remember the peril that servicemen face to defend the principles of the Constitution — principles now being replicated across the world.
"It's been the sons and daughters of Lenox and Berkshire County who in time of peril have answered America's call," he said, later adding that "as recently as R.J. Muchnick and Mitch Daehling, we know the perils of what they have faced."
Muchnick died doing what Marine Sean Ward said was "his job" and "helping his buddies."
"Even though I never met him, I can probably say yes, I did know him. I wore the same uniform, did the same training had some of the same experiences," Ward said.
Ward attended Muchnick's funeral at St. Anne's Church, situated not far from the gathering at the town's veterans monument. He said he has never been more "proud" to be a Marine than he is after meeting others who had traveled from Ohio to the burial. Marines who served with Muchnick make $950 a month — all of their travel expenses came from that, said Ward. Those Marines were going to three funerals in different parts of the country.
"How many of us would travel across the country to attend someone's funeral that we knew for maybe two or three years at the most. And to do that more than once in a couple of days," Ward said. "After this whole experience, I don't think there has been a time where I've had more pride."
Ward presented Muchnick's grandfather, Lenox resident Robert Coakley, a plaque that will hang in the Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing and Selectman David Roche also spoke during the ceremony.
More than 1.8 million servicemen and -women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Neal said that regardless of how anyone felt about the wars, those servicemen need to be honored and welcomed home. It is the responsibility of the citizens to take care of those veterans, he said.
"That's our responsibility. The veterans administration is on overload right now because of the claims that have been filed — almost 5,000 killed and 46,000 wounded. When you hear about the veterans hospital in Northampton or the Soldier's Home in Holyoke, when I hear people say during budget deliberations 'that's the people's money.' Well, there is another consideration:
"Those veterans hospitals, those are the people's responsibilities."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said recent death of Passetto is an example of how one doesn't have to be killed in battle to be a "casualty of war."
"He struggled with his trauma and the horrors he saw in the Middle East," he said. "Eddie is gone but he will never be forgotten."
Pignatelli called on residents to "pay attention a little bit more" to helping those returning.
In Clarksburg, war memorabilia collector and historian Darrell K. English urged not the adults, but the youngsters to seek out veterans to ensure their stories were remembered.
"Those who might not quite understand all this, who might not have full grasp of it, who might think today is better known as 'barbecue day,'" he said to the dozens gathered in the morning at Town Hall, following the VFW ceremony at the cemetery.
There were people at the ceremony who, growing up in the 1930s and '40s, he said, "might have seen gentlemen parading past them who were at a different war, a war that in six weeks we will be celebrating its 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg."
The cemeteries are fill with soldiers who had gone to their graves with stories untold, said English, urging the youngsters to go up to veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and "talk to these people and they will tell you stories, about what they saw, what they did and how they participated in carrying out their duties to the greatest country on earth. ...
"Hear their stories before they are lost."
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9411 Chaplain Paul Gigliotti was master of ceremonies in Clarksburg, and Selectman Jeffrey Levanos and Town Administrator Thomas Webb gave remarks; Laurie Boudreau gave the pledge and sang the national anthem.
Selectmen Chairman Carl McKinney reminded the gathering that communities large and small, from every corner of the nation, had given "its best and brightest to honorable struggle of ideas, struggle of liberty, and the struggle of freedom ... and indeed our nation is better for it."
Memorial Day was to ensure they were not forgotten, he said.
Williamstown's ceremony focused on its three residents currently serving in Afghanistan, but it also offered a poignant reminder of the day's true meaning.
American Legion Post 152 used the occasion to announce the creation of a scholarship at Mount Greylock Regional High School in honor of World War II veteran Cecil Harvey, who died in January of this year.
Post Chaplain Dick McCarthy, who made the announcement, recalled how Harvey conducted his own personal "Memorial Day" on myriad occasions.
"In all sorts of rotten weather, the captain never missed a funeral detail," McCarthy said, describing how Harvey served the post as part of its honor guard. "At the sounding of taps, he always recited the names of the 16 men lost to him in the theater of operation."
Harvey served in the Allied invasion at Normandy on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge, McCarthy said.
"After 70 some-odd years, he would remember the names of the 16 men in his company who were lost," McCarthy said. "That's a testimony to why we're here today."
The featured speaker in the ceremony at Field Park also reminded the audience of the focus of the holiday that started as Decoration Day after the Civil War.
"Today we remember friends, family and loved ones who were killed in war while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. Each of us brings our own personal perspective and memories to Memorial Day, which is what makes it such a unique and sacred holiday for us all,” said retired Master Chief Petty Officer Howard Carter. "For those in the audience who feel the sting of having lost a person or persons in war who you cared for, I am sorry for your loss.
"Memorial Day is for reflection. We reflect on the sacrifice of others. We remember those who died on sea, air and land during service to the United States. In them we find respect for liberty and the spirit to never quit."
In North Adams, a couple hundred people watched the parade that began at the American Legion and traveled down Main and Eagle streets, arriving at the Veterans Memorial.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, stressed the courage and fearlessness of the nation's servicemen, some who never returned home from war — a list that has come most recently include DeMarsico and Daehling. DeMarsico, a graduate of Drury High School, was the first war casualty from North Adams since the Vietnam War.
"They will always be remembered," Cariddi said. "They remain in our hearts, we are forever in their debt. Let us never forget to remember they gave up all of their tomorrows for our todays."
Drury High School eighth-grader Billy Galipeau, recipient of this year's George Angeli Award given in remembrance of the North Adams police officer killed on duty in 1960, delivered the Gettysburg Address. Brianna Therrien led the pledge and William Brown sang the national anthem. Matt Scanlon and James Montgomery of the Drury High marching band played taps to conclude the event.
Adams has lost 117 to war, including Staff Sgt. Robert Goyette, brother of Fire Chief Paul Goyette, on Oct. 27, 1968, during the Vietnam War. Army Lt. Col. Frederick Lora, whose great-grandparents settled on Burlingame Hill, recalled others lost, including his own classmate at Hoosac Valley High School, Daniel H. Petithory, among the first casualties in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Petithory, along with DeMarsico and Daehling, "these soldiers, members of our Berkshires community, represent the over 6,000 service members who have given their life while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan since the attack of 9/11," Lora told the large gathering at the Maple Street Cemetery. "We honor the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have died defending this great nation throughout our history.
"Above all, don't lose sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the one day America sets aside each year to honor our fallen heroes."
Lora asked that those who had followed the parade to the cemetery do three things: Fly an American flag in memory of those who died preserve freedom; to remember servicemen and -women at home and abroad, to support them and their families, and to participate in the national moment of silence at 3 that day.
The VFW's Paul Hutchinson, master of ceremonies, presented Lora with a VFW hat, and introduced singer Tom Brown, who provided music including a song about the "The Wall," the Vietnam War memorial; the "Gettysburg Address" was delivered by Hoosac Valley High junior Tyler Carpenter and 8th-grader Kaylea Nocher read the poem "In Flander's Field."
The Rev. Daniel Boyle of the Parish of St. John the Blessed gave the opening prayer, saying that God's "message took form in the vision of our ancestors who fashioned a nation where all might live as one. His message lives on in our midst as a task for us today and a promise for tomorrow."
Cheshire, as it regularly does, offered a lesson in Memorial Day history with the reading of essays by fifth-graders from Cheshire Elementary School.
Gabriella Glasier, Reva Whitman and Vito Mattia spoke of the beginnings of the holiday as Decoration Day after the Civil War while Patrick Walsh gave the Gettysburg Address.
Gabriella, Reva and Vito each said they had family members who had served, and Memorial Day was a day for them to remember and be together. Vito, however, had lost his father, an Air Force veteran, last year and now the day had become a very personal time for him and his mother to decorate his father's grave.
"There is arguably no greater sacrifice to make than to die for another, said Selectman Paul Astorino. "Americans have never ceased to honor those who gave their all."
But the "eloquence of words" cannot match their sacrifice in the cause of freedom, he said. "Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan today are the direct descendants of the troops of Yorktown and Normandy. The battlefield may be different, the weapons may have changed, but the fight is the same."
The toll has risen over the years. Gabriella noted that the first Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery brought out 5,000 volunteers to put flowers and flags on more than 20,000 graves. Lora, speaking in Adams, said more than 260,000 flags were placed at Arlington over the weekend.
But even community members were encouraged to listen to veterans to gain an understanding of their experience, some veterans pointed to the difficulty in making themselves understood.
"If you didn't go, then you don't know," Vietnam veteran John Harding said at Pittsfield's ceremony on Monday. "War is not pleasant."
The former Marine, addressing hundreds at the Pittsfield Cemetery, said he returned from Vietnam "angry and mad" and he did not care for parades and memorials. His uniforms were stolen, and he did not care.
Returning from war often brings sleep deprivation, behavioral changes, survival guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, he said. And those who never went to war wouldn't know what that is like.
"Most of the United States have been exposed to war on our homeland. The Oklahoma bombing of the federal building in 1995, the horrorific 9/11 attack and the most recent, the Boston Marathon," Harding said. "These attacks give the American people some insight of the concept of war. But these attacks are ineffective and futile for the enemy. They keep forgetting that we don't give up."
Those serving overseas to protect the nation experience horrors that most Americans will never have to experience, he said. When they return, they need support and the freedom they fought for must "not be taken for granted."
"These men and women deserve the best care possible," Harding said, calling for "profound" changes with the federal Veterans Affairs, which now has a backlog of claims after more than a decade of war.
He said, "dignity is the most powerful quality of a human being. Taking it from them and you have destroyed a soul. Stand strong and proud veterans, for you have walked the walk."
Mayor Daniel Bianchi asked residents to "say a prayer" for those who are still overseas and their families, who are waiting for their return.
"They need our prayers, especially those who have to turn the Blue Star to Gold," Bianchi said.
Bianchi called Memorial Day "the most solemn holiday" when residents remember those who have taken "their final roll call."
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