Tristan Johnson of Newfane, a Vietnam War veteran, was among the attendees.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Tristan Johnson of Newfane, a Vietnam War veteran, was among the attendees.

They lived and died for the love of their country

On Memorial Day, a Brattleboro ceremony pays respects for war dead

BRATTLEBORO-On this damp and gray Memorial Day, the traditional service in front of the town's war memorial at the Town Common was moved indoors to American Legion Post 5 on Linden Street.

For incoming Post 5 commander Jay Mills, it was the first Memorial Day service he was in charge of, and he said that a lot of changes had to be made on the fly, starting with a last-minute cancellation by the keynote speaker.

Instead, Post 5 Chaplain and Service Officer Mike LeClaire offered a special invocation that cut to the heart of what the day is all about.

"We gather on this Memorial Day to honor our country's dead. Men and women who have lived and died for the love of their country. So it is for these that we stand here today. Yes, we stand here for what they have done and for what they have given - their lives," LeClaire said.

"So, help us look beyond the graves, the tombstones, and see their lives. Lives of people that you and I loved. Along with our entire country, we pause, we reflect, we pay tribute, and we honor those who gone on before us.

"We give thanks for their service, and we verify by our presence here today that their efforts were not vain. To honor their legacy, we commit ourselves to be more vigilant in our love for others, for our nation, and the cause of freedom, justice, and peace throughout the world."

Simple and heartfelt

The simple, low-key, and heartfelt ceremony also included a brief tribute to George Stone Sr., of Brattleboro, a World War II combat veteran who will celebrate his 100th birthday on May 31.

Stone Sr. was fresh out of high school in Maine when he enlisted in the Army in 1941, not long before the U.S. declared war on Germany and Japan in December 1941.

He ended up as a combat engineer, landing on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. He said he drove a Caterpillar D7 armored bulldozer across Europe, clearing obstacles for advancing troops.

After the war, Stone had a long career as a heavy equipment operator for Lane Construction, driving his D7 to build instead of destroy.

Brattleboro Scout Troop 405 led the service with the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Brattleboro American Legion Band performed a mini-concert of patriotic tunes.

The service ended with the Post 5 and Marine Corps League Detachment 798 Joint Honor Guard firing their volley in front of the Legion's flagpole as a light rain fell, after which two buglers played "Taps."

Keeping the memories alive

Before the service began, two Vietnam War veterans, Tristan Johnson of Newfane and Robert Tortolani of Brattleboro, were talking about the meaning of Memorial Day. The two know each other well from the Tuesday morning veterans coffee and storytelling gatherings held weekly at Post 5.

Johnson, who will be the keynote speaker at Dummerston's Traditional Memorial Day Program on Thursday, May 30, mused about "how we take less than 24 hours to think about those who didn't come home" and the importance of "not putting away" those thoughts for the rest of the year.

Tortolani said he believes "we don't spend enough time talking about the families and the pain of their loss" on Memorial Day. "Those families are thinking about them every day."

Johnson said the coffee klatches for veterans that Tortolani leads are "a way to continue Memorial Day" and the day's spirit of remembrance throughout the year.

"We need to think about other ways to reach out to the families and friends of those who served," he said.

This News item by Randolph T. Holhut was written for The Commons.

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