BRATTLEBORO—On a gray and rainy May morning, the people of Brattleboro gathered on the Common to pay homage to the men and women who gave their lives in service to the nation.
The annual Memorial Day Service, hosted by American Legion Post 5 on May 29, had fewer people this year due to the weather.
But incoming Post 5 commander John Hagen told those who did show up that they were reminding “the folks driving by what today is about — recognizing those who served their country.”
“You are here to remember those who cannot be here,” said VFW Post 104 commander Mark Truhan. “We remember their faces, we remember their names, we remember the context we knew them in. For us, they will be perpetually young.”
The featured speaker was Col. Patrick Guinee, wing commander for the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard, who said that “I wish we could tell everyone today that we have fought our last battle, but history has taught us otherwise.”
‘To defend the Constitution’
Guinee thanked those who were present who had served in the military, and reminded them of the day they took the oath of induction into the armed forces:
“For those who have served and are currently serving, do you remember the day you took the oath? You were proud then, but you may not have fully understood the magnitude of what was about to take place.
“At the position of attention, right hand in the air, you stated your full name and declared with honor to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that you would bear true faith and allegiance to the same.
“You wrote a blank check that day to this great country, and you signed it with your life. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that is more noble than making that kind of commitment to your fellow man. The men and women we honor today had that check cashed. They gave their life, so we could enjoy our way of life.”
But what makes Americans willing to sign that blank check?
For Guinee, the motivation comes from the Declaration of Independence in 1776, when the founders of our nation wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“That was a powerful statement, one that would likely cost them their lives,” Guinee said.
But the last line of the Declaration of Independence — “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” — is, for Guinee, “exactly what we are celebrating today. We have been blessed with great Americans willing to step forward and pledge the same commitment” that the founders did on July 4, 1776.
“If this republic is to succeed, we must ensure we take care of those who commit themselves to military service,” he said, citing President Lincoln’s words from his second Inaugural Address: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Poppies for soldiers
Guinee concluded with the words of a poem written in response to John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” The response, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” was written by Moina Belle Michael in 1918 upon reading McCrae’s poem, particularly its last stanza:
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ fields.”
Michael vowed to ever after wear a red poppy in remembrance, and she is credited with the red poppy becoming the symbol of remembrance and care for all war veterans in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
“And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught:
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ fields.”
By being on the Common, on a rainy May morning, Guinee said that the people of Brattleboro “have held the torch high.”
Before the service on the Common, the honor guards of American Legion Post 5, VFW Post 1034, and the Marine Corps League visited each of the town’s cemeteries for a brief ceremony of remembrance. A reception at Post 5 followed the services.