Staff Sgt. Louis Beveraggi of North Adams speaks at the ceremony at the American Legion.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 3,400 wreaths were laid at the gravestones of the city's veterans on Saturday to honor their memory.
Dozens of volunteers at Southview Cemetery braved the rainy day to set wreaths and speak the names of the veterans interred there or to simply say, "Thank you for your service."
Staff Sgt. Louis Beveraggi, keynote speaker for the event, said he participated in last year's Wreaths Across America and recalled the emotions he had felt.
"I had that feeling like, as I'm passing wreaths, and I'm not trying to rush, to take that moment and just kind of reflect on my time in service and those that have served as well," he said. "You know we have a great country here."
Wreaths Across America is an initiative to "remember the fallen, honor those who serve, teach children the value of freedom." The local effort has been coordinated for the past two years by Donna Engels and Donna Whitcomb, who have raised thousands of dollars to make it successful. An estimated 200 people total — from senior citizens to Boy Scouts — were on hand to help lay the wreaths.
The downpour forecast for Saturday eased up enough for the volunteers at Southview, Hill Side, Blackinton and St. Joseph's cemeteries to unpack the boxes and boxes of wreaths delivered on Friday for the event. The rain and warmer weather also made the cemeteries much more accessible after last week's nearly 2 feet of snow.
But it was enough to move the noon ceremony from the Veterans Memorial to American Legion Post 125, where there was a presentation of the colors, a patriotic performance by the Drury High School band and a ceremonial laying of wreaths for each branch of the military.
Beveraggi, a 20-year member of the Vermont National Guard, was born in Lynn but grew up in North Adams and attended what was then North Adams State College. He spent two tours overseas, first for 18 months in Iraq, including in Ramadi, which he described as Hell, and the second in 2010 in Afghanistan.
"It never dawned on me that I was following something of a time-honored tradition that my uncles had done — Vietnam veterans — and then, also, my grandfather was a Korean War veteran," he said, adding that war changes your mindset on things.
"When I got home from Iraq, I realized how beautiful Berkshire County is. I never took the time in my life to say hey, this is just beautiful here," Beveraggi said. "When you go into war and come back, they say you lose a little bit of yourself. But then it opens up other doors ... what I mean by that is, I come home, I volunteer a lot, I volunteer for veterans."
Sometimes it's a having a cup of coffee with a fellow veteran, and other times its a more somber duty, such as a call he got from a family to put flowers on the graves of a father and a son who both served. So he took his daughters with him to find the gravestones.
"My daughters are like why are you in your dress uniform and I explain to them that it's about respect," Beveraggi said.
Impressing upon the youth the price of freedom is a central aspect to the initiative. The Rev. William Cyr of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church said, "we need to be constantly reminded of freedom, and those who gave their all to make sure that we in future generations continue to know life in a free society ...
"Remembering those who have passed is only part of the task that is before us. We must also carry their love, their dedication, their honor and their duty forward into the future. Our children must know who they were, what they did, and why they did it. To do less, would be a disservice to their sacrifice and to their memories that we honor today."
Amy Christian, once again the master of ceremonies, said more than 1,700 sites were participating in the memorial.
"We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society, made up of many people from many walks of life, the freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price," she said. "We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free, and we shall not forget you. We shall remember."
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Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant.
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good.
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
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After a few days in the icebox, temperatures will be turning above freezing going into the weekend and there's a chance of snow — or more likely rain, as a storm system moves north of the Berkshires.
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The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
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Food insecurity, housing, child care, education, financial literacy, and substance abuse were among the subjects of the poverty forum sponsored by the Berkshire Community Action Council and hosted at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Friday morning.
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