Memorial Day ceremonies were held throughout county on Monday, including in Williamstown. More photos here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Not only did a steady rain Monday morning not deter the festivities at Williamstown, the post commander of American Legion Post 152 incorporated the inclement weather into his remarks.
"As I was marching up the hill, I thought to myself, 'I'm going to call this. I don't want to get wet,' " Ron James told the crowd gathered at Field Park. "Then I thought about the men and the women who served our country, that wallowed in the mud in [World War I's] Flanders Fields, that were in World War II, in the Battle of the Bulge, as we have members here.
"And I thought about them being wet. I thought about them not having appropriate sanitary facilities. I thought about their blood and their sweat and their tears. And I said, 'We're going to do this today. We owe it to them.'
"If you're wet, suck it up."
Several hundred people "sucked it up" to honor the nation's heroes, living and deceased, with the annual parade up Spring Street and west on Main Street (Route 2) to the Field Park rotary, where the Legion held its annual Memorial Day remembrance.
The parade included the Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School bands, Williamstown's Fire Department and Police, Village Ambulance, the Girl Scouts, Williamstown Cal Ripken, the Williamstown Youth Center and the Board of Selectmen.
At the end of the half-mile parade route, the crowd gathered
This year, the post gave specific honor to those surviving World War II veterans.
Former Post 152 Commander J. Michael Kennedy introduced a dozen honored guests, including one woman WWII veteran, Anita Hanlon, who trained Navy pilots during the war, and one veteran of the so-called "Candy Bombers," who conducted the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, Edward Pratt.
Other World War II vets honored included: Anthony Folino, Arthur Langlois, Gordon Morrison, Peter White, Marcus Jaffe, Victor Girardi, Frederick Scarborough, Elias Farnham, Rolland Roy of Pownal and John Leonesio of North Adams.
Kennedy gave the background of each veteran and shared personal impressions of each.
He even had a little good-natured needling for one of the honorees.
"Marc [Jaffe] was responsible for me walking up here today," Kennedy said. "I was planning on riding. Thank you, lieutenant."
The rain was also coming down in Clarksburg, as a good-sized crowd gathered in front of Town Hall under umbrellas for the annual observances.
Keynote speaker Rob Goodell, an engineer at GE and member of the volunteer fire department, reminded the gathering that Memorial Day specifically marked the remembrance of those lost in war.
"Those who died while serving — drafted or enlisted — they were taken from us long before their time," he said. "Think for a minute what we must have missed."
This year's speaker at the Holocaust exhibit had raised the same topic, Goodell noted, of not only what families had lost but the world as well by lives being cut short of their potential.
Some families were lucky, in that their loved ones overseas were able to "come home and share their stories, offer guidance and be there for you," said Goodell.
He encouraged the gathering, particularly the youngsters, to take advantage of the firsthand accounts of history available to them, as he had with a family friend of his growing up.
Servicemen lost in combat still live in the memories of those with whom they served, said Goodell, pointing to the veterans honor guard. "They are a living conduit to our history. ... I urge you to sit with them and have them tell you about their comrades in arms ... a firsthand account of what we never hope to experience again."
The master of ceremonies was Paul Gigliotti; Katie Ameen sang "America the Beautiful." Students from Clarksburg School played a selection of music and did the readings: Abby Kate Caproni read "In Flanders Fields"; Holly Boudreau, Molly Wojnicki and Madison Goodell gave the Gettysburg Address; and Hannah and Hope Blake read the honor roll and struck the bell for each name.
By using all the children, it serves two purposes," said Gigliotti. "The main thing was to teach them a little about history, where they came from and where this nation came from."
In Pittsfield, Mayor Daniel Bianchi said reminded those gathered Pittsfield Cemetery that "Memorial Day is not a boisterous holiday. It is, rightly so, the most solemn holiday."
The observances began with a parade from City Hall to the cemetery with dignitaries, veterans groups, bands and others.
Representatives from various veterans agencies honored their local members who have died with the tossing of a poppy onto a wreath. The Pittsfield High School band played a medley of patriotic music, Martha Green sang "God Bless American," the James E. Callahan Berkshire Chapter 65 Honor Guard shot a volley and the band played taps.
Memorial Day is one way to honor those who have died in battle, Bianchi said, but another way is to make sure that those veterans who do return, return to a caring and welcoming home.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, the keynote speaker, said there is still a lot more to do for returning veterans and the Gold Star families. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does do a lot of good for the veterans, there is still too much "bureaucracy" and long waiting times for benefits, she said.
Farley-Bouvier called for significant changes on the federal level in providing services. But, she also boasted of Massachusetts leading the country in providing benefits.
Her speech centered around the Gettysburg Address. Farley-Bouvier used quotes from Abraham Lincoln's notable speech to emphasize the importance of soldiers in defending the nation, as well as the responsibilities of civilians.
"Lincoln was talking about one battle and one war. But that principal applied to all that have served and are serving today," she said.
She asked those in attendance to picture an honor guard made up of soldiers of all wars, and said the soldiers wouldn't be much different."Throughout history, families right here in Pittsfield have been left behind," she said, while their loved ones fought overseas.
"Your service is valued. Your sacrifice is honored," she said.
The master of ceremonies was Fran Tremblay.
Despite the inclement weather, North Adams residents packed into the Veterans Memorial park to remember fallen heroes on Monday morning.
Army First Sgt. Jason F. Civello, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan, gave the keynote address after marching to the memorial accompanied by the Drury High School band.
Civello reflected on growing up in the area and his military family history.
"I know what the Mount Greylock Ramble is, I know the rivalry between Hoosac Valley and Drury, and I know what a hot dog tastes like from Jack's and believe me those are the things you think about when you are far away from home," Civello said. "I know how important military service is to Northern Berkshire County, I know the great pride we have here for our fighting men and women, and I know what it feels like to grow up and learn of the sacrifices our military men and women made."
Civello asked the crowd to remember the extraordinary sacrifices made by men and women who have served in the military.
"We must recognize the millions and millions of missed kisses goodbye and the millions and millions of lost hugs goodnight," he said. "These were ordinary men and women who rose to meet seemingly impossible odds and did extraordinary things, and these brave men and women left the safety of their sovereign soil to defeat the enemy, ensure justice, and to fulfill the promise of safety and security for our citizens and the global community."
Civello reflected on the sacrifices Berkshire County military men and women made to secure the freedoms in America.
"Here in North Adams and in Berkshire County I can confidently say no one can ever say we did not do our part; freedom had a coast, and there are graves all over Berkshire County to prove my point," he said. "The soldiers, sailors, and airmen resting here live supporting the lives, and the values that create the back bone of the nation."
The Gettysburg Address was read by Allison Zoito, this year's recipient of the George Angeli Award. Heather Patton sang the national anthem and Matt Scanlon and Evan Johnson will played taps. Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Civello was master of ceremonies
The ceremony was closed by honoring local World War II heroes Willam Caprari, age 98, and Eugene "Red" Arrighini, age 89.
After a parade through Cheshire, residents met at the Cheshire Cemetery for the annual ceremony.
"Memorial Day is the time we honor those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "More than 1 million American service members have died in the wars and conflicts this nation has fought since the first Colonial soldier took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence; each person that died in those conflicts was a loved one cherished by a family and friends each was a loss to the nations, and a loss to the town of Cheshire."
Francesconi thanked the Cheshire citizens who attended the ceremony for remembering why Memorial Day is important.
"For decades, Memorial Day was a day in our nation where stores closed and communities gathered together for a day of parades and other celebrations with a patriotic theme," she said. "Those present here today remember the true meaning of Memorial Day; you understand that on Memorial Day we honor the ideals and values those soldiers stood for and died defending."
Fifth-grader Kristen Wilczlak presented her Memorial Day essay she wrote for class.
"In 1776, the Revolutionary War had begun; many cannons boomed in the distance as well as rifle shots," Wilczlak said. "Our country lost many brave and strong soldiers, and we honor them with a day called Memorial Day; Memorial Day is very important to us because we remember all of the soldiers that have fallen for the safety of our home the United States of America."
The annual parade in Adams was able make its way around the downtown in the morning but the wet weather moved the ceremony inside the fire station rather than its usual place at the Maple Street Cemetery.
Paul Hutchinson was master of ceremonies, the Rev. Daniel Boyle gave the opening and closing prayers, and Skylar Case read "In Flanders Field."
Singer Tom Brown and his granddaughter, Hannah Koczela, performed several patriotic songs; also providing music was the Hoosac Valley High School band and the Berkshire Highlanders.
Retired Reserve Air Force Lt. Col. Bruce Shepley of Adams delivered the keynote address and read Maj. Gen. John A. Logan's order designating the original Decoration Day in 1868.
"I'm honored to stand before you today as the voice for those who've died in service of our country it is my hope that I may enforce the meaning and purpose of the day," he said those assembled at the fire station.
He remembered the large parades on Memorial Day growing up in North Adams in the 1950s and '60s: "The entire parade route lined with citizins holding American flags." The Scouting groups, veterans and auxiliaries, the Gold Star mothers and National Guard in their military vehicles, the stage draped in flags and bunting, "Brown Street packed with observers and participants," and the final 21-gun salute.
Later, they'd walk the slopes of Hillside Cemetery and go to Southview, looking at grave markers of veterans from past wars.
"I'm sure the siginificance of the day was not important to me or as meaningful as it is now," he said. "Memorial Day was not intended to be the kickoff to summer. Its reason was not to take off for a three-day weekend at the beach, or a camping trip or a respite from work, or to get the best sale at a mega retailer.
"Its purpose and its intent has been to, and is to, honor the dead who sacrificed for our freedoms."
Those include names from Adams like Augustus Chapman, who died in the Civil War, or Joseph Oleskowicz Jr. in World War II, or Robert T. Goyette in Vietnam.
"Take pause today to reflect on our freedoms," said Shepley. "Reflect on the millions in our history who died for them."
Staff writers Stephen Dravis, Tammy Daniels, Andrew McKeever and Jack Guerino contributed to this report.
Kevin Hamel was incorrectly noted as speaking at the Williamstown ceremony; the speaker was J. Michael Kennedy and the error has been fixed.