BRATTLEBORO — Memorial Day services are usually about past conflicts, and the fallen in wars that most Americans know about only from history books.
This year's Memorial Day service on the Common focused on the wars that haven't ended yet - the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers are still in harm's way - and remembering the sacrifices in a war that has faded from the headlines, but not from the hearts and minds of those who have served, those who still serve, and the families and friends of those who gave their lives.
Brigadier Gen. Greg Knight, the Vermont National Guard's adjutant general, spoke of how “our fallen still speak to us.”
“If you listen quietly, you can hear them,” he said. “I hear them. I remember their voices from conversations I've had, sometimes minutes before they gave their last full measure of devotion to our nation.”
The adjutant general is the senior uniformed military officer in the state, and is responsible for the recruiting, administration, equipping, training, maintenance, and readiness of the National Guard.
Knight was elected to the adjutant general post by the Legislature in February. This was his first visit to Brattleboro in his new role.
The Huntington resident succeeded Air Force Major Gen. Steven Cray, who announced his retirement earlier this year. It was the first time in more than two decades that an Army officer has been named Vermont's adjutant general.
Knight has served in the military for 35 years, with his time spread between the Vermont Army National Guard (22 years) and the U.S. Coast Guard and the Vermont Air National Guard (a combined 13 years).
In his remarks, he recalled his time with the Vermont Army National Guard, as a commander in the First Battalion, 172nd Armor Brigade, which was deployed to Iraq from June 2005 to June 2006 during some of the most intense fighting of the Iraq War.
He remembered two men in particular from Task Force Saber, the Army combat team that the Vermonters were assigned to in the Iraqi province of Ramadi led by the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
The first was Sergeant First Class Chris Chapin of Proctor. Knight said Chapin was on patrol on Aug. 23, 2005, as part of an operation to get Iraqis to vote in the nation's first Constitutional Referendum. He was shot and killed.
Knight also spoke of Second Lt. Mark Procopio of Burlington, who was out on patrol when he received word that a Marine Corps helicopter gunship had crashed west of Baghdad.
While en route to the crash, Procopio's vehicle struck a homemade bomb and was killed instantly.
Chapin and Procopio were two of the 40 Vermonters who were killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were among more than 3,000 Vermonters who served in those two conflicts since 2001.
“There are so many more stories to tell,” Knight said. “Understand the heroes we remember today are not exclusive to any gender, race, or religion. They are a diverse group united by the common principle that America - and the people they serve - are worth dying for.”
And the voices of the fallen, he said, are never far from the daily lives of the Gold Star families left to carry on.
“Children without parents, Gold Star mothers and fathers, spouses and siblings - they can still hear the voices of those they lost. It is up to us to hear the voices of these families, offer our support, and express our highest gratitude.”
The service was hosted by American Legion Post 5, VFW Post 1034, and Marine Corps League Detachment 798.