Photo: Belmont veterans at attention.
Across the country cities, town and counties marked the first holiday weekend in more than a year where most, if not all, restrictions to halt the spread of the COVID-19 were lifted. Some saw the return of crowds to sporting events (the Indianapolis 500, playoff basketball and hockey), businesses and restaurants open fully, or crowding beaches and playgrounds.
In Belmont, the day was observed in solemn remembrance of the 119 residents who died defending the country since the Civil War, a return to the annual ritual cancelled last year due to the pandemic which took so far nearly 600,000 of our fellow citizens.
“It’s fitting that [Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker] lifted the COVID restrictions on Memorial Day weekend, as the future of maskless freedom coincides with this day of honoring those who fought for our freedom, both here and around the world,” said Belmont Select Board Chair Adam Dash. “Today we remember those lost in the military. We should also reflect on those losses to the horrible sickness which profoundly changed our lives as we were sequestered in our homes and left without full human contact for over a year.”
In the days before, Belmont High School athletes and volunteers placed new US flags at the graves of veterans and the fallen. On Monday, the weekend rains ended and residents along with contingencies from Belmont Police and Fire departments, the Belmont High School marching band, boy and girl scouts, and town employees all came to gather at Belmont Cemetery to remember and reflect.
The observance, coordinated by Belmont Veterans Service Officer Bob Upton and led by master of ceremonies retired USMC Col. Michael Callanan, recalled the son, the father, friend, colleague, and neighbor who made the ultimate sacrifice. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Len Kondratiuk spoke of Pharmacist Mate Second Class Daniel Joy, a 23-year-old medic who died at Guadalcanal in 1942; Richard Quigley, an 18-year-old who was one of the first Americans killed in the Korean Conflict; Edward Teddy Lee, a 20-year-old leader in an elite army reconnaissance unit known to his comrades as the bravest and toughest soldiers in the company, who was killed in action in May 1968 in Vietnam; and Jonathan Curtis, an Army specialist who gave his own life protecting his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan 10 years ago. His mother, Pamela, was in attendance.
Pastor Bob Butler of the Open Door Baptist Church recalled Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in which the 16th president said “we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” In airing our gratitude, “we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not out of the words, but to live by them,” said Butler, quoting John F. Kennedy.
Massachusetts State Rep. Dave Roberts, while remembering his friends Alex and Tom, Army personnel who died in service, connected Memorial Day with June 15, the day the state of emergency in Massachusetts will be over. “I just want to say I hope you and your families have come through this trying time.”
Dash noted the lasting legacy of those who sacrificed their lives for the country continues in their hometown’s civic structures both physical and systematic including municipal buildings, natural preserves, “our schools, our library, monuments, and infrastructure, both old and new.” But that local bequest “has been fractured of late by choices, politics, and economic hardship. But fractures can heal” by putting aside our personal interests for the greater good … and recognize that we were stronger together than we were apart.”
“This little town of homes is a family. Families may sometimes fight, but they love and defend each other. We’re not all soldiers and sailors, but we all understand the example that they set, the legacy that they leave, the honor that they embody in life and echo in death,” said Dash.
“We owe it to them to pull together and marching to the future united, and ready to leave this town better than we found it.”