Photo: Larry and Janet MacDonald salute the flag as it passes by on Memorial Day 2018 in Belmont on Monday, May 28.
It was a drizzling and cool Memorial Day as Belmont prepared to honor residents who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms and protect the citizens of the country.
Despite the weather and the long holiday weekend that signals the unofficial start of summer, residents came out to watch their veteran neighbors, the High and Middle schools marching band, trucks, the police and fire department, town and state officials and seemingly every kid between four and eight left in town march from Cushing Square, down Trapelo Road and Belmont Street to Grove Street and on to the Belmont Cemetery for the annual service to remember the honored dead.
Speaking for the town, Selectmen Chair Adam Dash noted that the world will mark in November the centennial of the armistice ending the First World War, the “War to End All Wars.” After facing industrial war with poison gas and mechanized killing with airplanes, submarines, tanks and machine guns, it was felt at the time “that no future men and women would have to live through it again,” Dash recalled.
But rather than finalizing conflict, World War I “was the precursor to an even greater conflict a generation later, as well as the numerous other conflicts around the globe over the past 100 years.”
But while peoples have fought peoples since time began, “[w]e have shown the ability to follow the biblical command of Isaiah to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks … We have turned airplanes into civilian modes of travel. We have used submarines to scientifically explore the ocean depths. While we have waged wars, we have also used diplomacy to prevent wars.”
“It is up to us, who are living right now, to create that utopia dreamt of a century ago by soldiers trapped in trenches year upon year. Sustained peace would be the ultimate gift to those soldiers of yore who made the ultimate sacrifice. We are up to the task if we simply want to make it happen.”
“We remember that they rest in peace so we can live in peace,” said Dash.
The day’s keynote speaker, Belmont Board of Library Trustee Elaine Alligood, was one of the few women honored to be the main speaker at the service. She spoke how over a quarter century working as a Veterans Administration Librarian, veterans “have taught me way more than I can ever claim to have done for them. Each veteran – more than 21 million in the US including 2 million female vets – “has a unique journey back to their world, often compelling, instructive, and complicated.”
Alligood highlighted two veterans she got to know on their journeys. One was convinced he was going to die from an intestinal condition he didn’t have. She drew him out of his shell by finding material in the library related to his Ph.D. in Russian Literature. The vet soon began telling her a story that as an intelligence officer during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, he believed his faulty analysis led to the death of 19 soldiers, “each death weighed on him even now, decades later.”
“He simply could not forgive himself even though he’d done his job. [He] taught me about the almost unendurable burden of a soldier’s commitment to his brothers in arms; the awful and powerful affliction he couldn’t shake at their loss,” said Alligood.
The other veteran was in recovery and on probation, “endur[ing] much, and lost much, during combat and once home, he couldn’t stop remembering and re-living it. His experiences fueled his unfocused rage, and his addiction. All utterly de-railing his life plans, destroying his relationships, landing him in a world of consequences.”
Alligood saw that the vet was diligently trying to re-build his life, repair his relationships, and make amends to his fractured family so took him in a VA work-therapy program. He showed up in her dusty basement library, “enthusiastically re-organized and re-shelved our old, pre-digital print journal collection without a complaint.” When he asked Alligood to write a letter to his probation officer documenting the work he was doing, “I realized then, the depth of his dedication to his road back. [He]. knew it was long and tedious, yet central to his journey, and he was not stopping.”
“[He] taught me about forgiveness and endurance, acceptance, the power of commitment and hope; no matter how long or bumpy the road back home might be, he was committed to the journey,” said Alligood.
“Here’s to all our Veterans, all you’ve sacrificed, all you’ve given and done, for all of us, all across America. Thank you for your service, and Godspeed on your journey,” she said.