CHATHAM — On a weekend filled with the sounds of sizzling hamburgers and joyful family gatherings, a group of citizens took time to hear the stories of fallen veterans, the report of a rifle salute, and the mournful strains of Taps.
More than 150 people attended Chatham’s Memorial Day observance at the community center Monday. SPC Ted Miller, U.S. Army, Ret., led the commemoration, and provided a “virtual tour” of the town’s war memorials.
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The tour would start at the World War I memorial just outside the community center, honoring the town’s citizen soldiers who fought in the Great War. “I think it’s important that their names be read,” Miller said before reciting the seven names. The men who fought were ordinary townspeople who answered the call to serve, he said.
The tour would then visit the new World War II memorial and the Oyster Pond, where Miller and a detail from Coast Guard Station Chatham would later lay a wreath to honor those lost at sea. Nearby is the memorial to Chatham veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Miller served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, and said the unpopular war caused “great friction in our society,” with returning servicemen often receiving a chilly reception, or no welcome at all.
Borrowing a phrase from the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C., Miller said the veterans of both conflicts were sent there to protect “a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
“It’s been 50 years since we returned from Vietnam,” Miller said. The war was filled with carnage that became almost routine. Ordinary men died, and though their stories aren’t captured in Hollywood movies, “their sacrifice was as great as any,” he said.
The virtual tour would then visit the Civil War memorial at Sears Park, Miller told the assembly. Chatham resident Scott Hamilton recited an excerpt from the Gettysburg Address in the guise of Abraham Lincoln, and bagpiper Sarah Marchio performed the Civil War-era song, “Going Home.”
Had the commemoration taken place outdoors, the assembly would then gather at the veterans’ memorial at the rotary. In his invocation, the Rev. Brian McGurk, rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, acknowledged that for many, Memorial Day is filled with memories almost too painful to live with, “yet we dare not live without them.”
Chatham Girl Scout Rory Shortis led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Kristin Howard sang the National Anthem.
Miller asked the assembly if there were any Gold Star mothers present, and Missy Owens and her husband David rose to receive his thanks, and to help place a wreath at the base of the podium. Their son, U.S. Navy SEAL Kenneth Richard Owens, 27, died while on active duty in Hawaii in 2009. Mr. Owens was a Chatham High School graduate, a father, and a citizen warrior who was looking forward to a civilian career in the business world.
Following a rifle salute by the VFW honor guard, Nauset High School sophomore Liam Lawless played Taps on the trumpet.
The ceremony concluded when Rev. McGurk read John O’Donohue’s poem, “On Passing a Graveyard.”
Email Alan Pollock at alan @capecodchronicle.com