BRATTLEBORO—Courage, on and off the battlefield, was the theme of the annual Memorial Day service on the Common on May 30, presented by American Legion Post 5, VFW Post 1034, and Marine Corps League Detachment 798.
With the sorrow over the loss of life from recent mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, still fresh in everyone’s heart, master of ceremonies Tom Costello, past commander of Post 5, led a service that focused on courage.
He quoted U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who said last week that “in the wake of the slaughter in Buffalo and Uvalde, we are called — all Americans — to courage.”
“We would like to dedicate today to courage,” said Costello.
It was not just the names of the people on the Brattleboro honor roll of those who were killed in action in World Wars I and II, in Korea, and in Vietnam, he said, or the names of the dead on the town’s Civil War monument nearby, all of whom “through their courage made us free.”
It was the seemingly ordinary, matter-of-fact courage of doing what needed to be done when it had to be done that inspired Costello.
He cited the example of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the assistant commander of the Army’s First Infantry Division, during the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, remembered as D-Day.
Costello said that despite being the oldest man in the invasion force at age 56, and despite having a heart condition and needing a cane to move around, Roosevelt insisted that he go in with the first wave on Utah Beach.
When he learned that the landing craft was faced in the wrong location, Roosevelt decided that the division would fight from where they landed rather than try to move toward the original objective.
He told his commanders, “We’ll start the war from right here.”
With a pistol in one hand and a cane in the other, Roosevelt personally directed the units to the changed objective and did his best to steady the nerves of the men under fire, Costello said.
The First Infantry Division ultimately achieved the unit’s mission objectives on D-Day. Roosevelt died of a heart attack in France a month later, but his actions on Utah Beach earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor.
“That’s kind of kind of stuff we needed then and we need now,” Costello said. “He is a model for us all, to think of who we are, what brought us here, and what’s going to bring us forward to solve these horrific problems we are dealing with.”
“Uvalde and Buffalo are just the latest tragedies that continue, and will continue to plague our country, until we have the courage to address it,” he said.
The power of memory
Another example of courage offered by Costello was that of Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy, the featured speaker at the service.
In 1993, just days after Hardy began her law enforcement career with the Port Authority Police Department, she was at the World Trade Center during the first bombing of the New York City landmark. Her work evacuating people caught underground near the detonation area earned Hardy the department’s Medal of Valor.
Eight years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, she was part of the response team in the aftermath of the attacks that leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people, including 37 member of the Port Authority police.
Two years later, Hardy became the first woman to reach the rank of chief at the Port Authority.
Costello called Hardy “a person of extraordinary courage who came forward, did not stand around and wait, and did not ask. She stepped up and saved the victims of those tragedies.”
Speaking without a prepared text, Hardy said “she was very blessed and very honored” to be asked to speak at the service.
A member of the New York Army National Guard from 1986 to 1994 in the 42nd Infantry Division, she said that before the service she had spent the morning with the joint Legion/VFW/Marine Corps League color guard going to each of the town’s cemeteries to honor the town’s fallen service members.
Hardy called them “the most dedicated men and women I had ever met in my life” and thanked the honor guard, and the rest of the townspeople who made sure that veterans “are not forgotten.”
“Their blood was spilled all over the world so I could stand here today, so we could all have this day to honor them and remember them,” she said.
Hardy said that the expression “freedom isn’t free” is more than a slogan or catchphrase — it’s “something that I honor and believe in every day.”
“Regardless of where their blood was spilled, regardless of where their bodies may lie, we must always remember the men and women who sacrificed everything for us, for their country,” she said.
“If you are someone who has lost someone, or has given someone from your family, friends, or loved ones, I am here to tell you today, thank you,” Hardy continued. “Thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you to the men and women who’ve given up their lives for us.”
In choosing her profession, Hardy said she was inspired by the example of all who came before her and the need to ensure that the values of courage and service to others would be passed down to the next generation.
Closer to home, Hardy alluded to “the sadnesses of the world” and said that “no one should have to fear to go to a supermarket to shop. Children should not have to be afraid to go to school.”
“But this is the world that we are in,” she said.
Courage to go forward
The service also remembered the courage of veterans who are still carrying the emotional wounds of their service, and it addressed the ongoing epidemic of suicides among veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Vermont Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Herb Meckle spoke on the subject and the importance of reaching out to veterans who are having a tough time dealing with the aftermath of their service.
Meckle asked that if you know and regularly see someone who has served, “take care of them. Take care of each other. Look after them. Maybe they just need someone to talk to.”
He told a story of being at VFW Post 1034 with his wife for a karaoke night. They noticed a young veteran sitting alone with a drink, and Meckle asked him if he wanted to come over to their table to “watch me make of fool of myself.”
He did, and they spent the rest of the evening together.
“But, about halfway through it,” Meckle said, “he looked at me and said that he wasn’t going to go home. He was going to commit suicide.”
He ultimately didn’t, and Meckle believes he and his wife “made a difference that night by being kind.”
Robert Tortolani, a retired physician and a Vietnam veteran who has spent much time over the past few years helping veterans of all ages, echoed Meckle’s sentiments about reaching out.
“Please love your veterans, and care for your veterans,” he said. “They cared for all of us.”