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Remembering the fallen, comforting the living

Memorial Day service in Brattleboro puts extra emphasis on helping those who have borne the battle

BRATTLEBORO—Memorial Day is traditionally a time to honor those who died in service to their country.

However, this year’s Memorial Day service on the Common took time to focus on the living — the veterans of conflicts past, as well as their families — and to call attention to the service organizations that are there to help.

That was the idea of American Legion Post 5 commander John Hagen, who organized this year’s service.

“If we’re going to get more veterans into our organizations, we need to work together,” he said after the service.

Leonard Derby, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Tri-State Chapter 843, said most area residents didn’t realize that there was a local VVA chapter, but it is one of seven in Vermont.

While tending to the needs of Vietnam War-era veterans is the main focus of the organization, Derby said that they also “honor and assist veterans of all eras.”

Sherry Garland of Brattleboro Marine Corps League Detachment 798 said his group looks after the welfare of all Marine veterans who served during both peace and war.

Garland admitted most residents know the Marine Corps League for its Toys for Kids campaign during the holidays and for the college scholarships it offers to high school students. He said they were just two examples of how the League reaches out to the community.

But Garland also wanted to remind the people in the audience that the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans should be remembered every day, not just Memorial Day.

“I know today is but one day of remembrance,” he said, “but let us not forget that there still is the rest of the year, and that we have troops stationed around the world. When you go home tonight, say a small prayer and give thanks for the many troops who have served in the past, and those who serve today.”

He then pointed toward the town’s war memorial and concluded, “let us hope and pray for a peaceful world, so that we never again have to place another name on another monument such as this.”

Richard Campbell, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Carl M. Dessaint Post 1034 in Brattleboro, said that while his organization’s primary focus is on veterans who have served overseas in wartime, they also provide help to the rest of the area’s veterans organizations and give back to the community in a variety of ways.

Hagen said the Legion and the veterans organizations “are not just here to serve veterans, but to give veterans a chance to serve. We are looking for ways to have our veterans and our communities serve each other, and we think our organizations are a way to do that.”

The keynote speaker was Chief Master Sergeant Peter Noble of the Vermont Air National Guard. He wanted to acknowledge “anyone who has lost a loved one in the line of duty to this country. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed — no words of condolence can even begin to adequately console a survivor’s grief, and while grief from loss may change throughout the years — it never leaves us.”

Noble said that of the more than 1 million men and women who have died in military service to the U.S., “the vast majority are everyday heroes. They are brothers and sisters who fought alongside us, who left unfillable holes in families, communities, and hearts across the country. Their friendships, their bravery, and their commitment to duty will never be lost.”

He asked the audience on the Common to “keep the fallen in your minds, and their families and friends in your hearts — for it is their immense collective sacrifices that have helped keep our nation safe and free.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #461 (Wednesday, May 30, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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