ORLEANS – Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Smith has lost count of the number of times he drove by the small park at the intersection of West Road and Skaket Beach Road. Alan Walker Square, as it is called, is dedicated to the memory of one of Orleans' fallen war heroes.
Smith, an Orleans resident who served as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve from 2003 to 2010, wanted to know more.
"Alan Butler Walker became my Memorial Day 2022 mission," Smith told those gathered at Veterans Memorial Park for this year's annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning.
Walker, it turned out, was a classmate of Smith's mother at the former Orleans High School, which was located across from town hall on School Street. After graduating in 1938, Walker joined the Coast Guard, where he rose to the rank of radioman first class.
In July 1942, Walker was serving on the U.S.S. Muskeget, which was designated as a weather observation vessel during World War II.
"Once on station, Radioman Walker would have been busy sending messages providing critical weather information for convoys taking much needed supplies to Great Britain," Smith said.
Later that same year, in August, the Muskeget shipped out of Boston for waters near St. John, Newfoundland. On Sept. 9, two torpedoes struck and sank the vessel, killing 125 crew members onboard, including Walker.
"I'd like to think that Alan Walker and all those we honor on Memorial Day would continue to be pleased and proud of our collective efforts to recognize their legacies and keep our relationships with them strong and vibrant," said Smith, who also is a veteran of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
This year's ceremony gave special recognition to the Coast Guard and other marine-based military branches, including the U.S. Navy, Merchant Marines and the Marine Corps. The ceremony began with a gathering outside the Orleans Yacht Club, where Smith tossed a ceremonial bouquet of flowers into the water in memory of those who lost their lives in service to their country.
Following a prayer from Fire Chaplain Wesley Williams, the Orleans Police and Fire Honor Guard, followed by the Nauset Regional Middle School Band and other attendees, proceeded to Veterans Memorial Park. The perimeter of the park was lined two rows deep with small American Flags.
"Each flag represents an Orleans resident that served in the military, and at one point in time in their life wrote a blank check to the United States of America," said Kevin Higgins, who chairs the town's Veterans and Memorial Day Committee and led Monday's ceremony.
Inside the park stood an empty table and chair, complete with plates and silverware, a tablecloth, a candle and a vase with flowers wrapped in an American Flag bow. The table represented the prisoners of war who never returned home from duty.
"Let us remember their absence. Let us remember the men and women prisoners of war from all branches of service that are all too often forgotten," said Senior Chief Jon Fuller, U.S. Navy.
Monday's ceremony also included bagpipe renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Going Home" by Nathan Campbell, performances of "Taps" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" by the Nauset Regional Middle School Band, and renditions of the National Anthem and "America The Beautiful" by Hannah Novotny.
"I believe we all have a relationship with this sacred day," Smith said. "For some, it's more personal than others, those who have lost a loved one or a friend in defense of our country. But ultimately we are all connected to those noble men and women who selflessly wore the cloth of our nation."
Email Ryan Bray at email@example.com