Memorial Day: Traveling with the Color Guard in Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO — A strong tradition continued on another year, as local color guard members and other groups gathered at the grave sites of fallen comrades on Memorial Day.

"We all served together. Now, we all serve together in color guard," said Herb Meyer, head of the American Legion Post #5 Color Guard, "It's meaningful somehow. It's hard to explain."

His group performed rifle salutes at five different services around Brattleboro before making it to the Brattleboro Common for the annual Memorial Day ceremonies. More than 50 spectators showed up at the Common.

That's where most people assemble, said David Wright, past commander of the American Legion Post #5 and chaplain for both the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1034 and the Legion.

Members of the color guard and others boarded a school bus at 9 a.m. on Monday. The Marine Corps League Color Guard was careful bringing flags with sharply pointed poles onto the vehicle.

The first stop: the Kyle Gilbert Memorial Bridge downtown.

"I hope we don't run out of bridges," a friend had told Meyer when that bridge was named for the army private who died on Aug. 6, 2003 serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The sun started making an appearance as the bus traveled to the next sites. Rain had threatened attendance levels at the Common.

"For us, if you weren't in the rain, you weren't in the service very long," Wright said, leaving the Prospect Hill Cemetery United States Government Lot.

He served in the Air Force for 23 years.

"It was the best of times and it was the worst of times," he joked.

But when it comes to the Memorial Day services, there were no laughs.

"The World War I veterans are my grandfather's boys. The World War II veterans are my father's boys. The Vietnam War are my boys," said Wright. "I take it kind of seriously. It's very solemn for me."

The St. Michael's Cemetery service was performed by the Marine Corps League followed by the Veterans Bridge Naval Memorial service where members of the Ladies Auxiliary Units of the Legion and VFW dropped a wreath into the water. This is done to commemorate members of the Navy who died in service. The Brattleboro Police Department, which followed the bus throughout the morning, stopped traffic on Putney Road.

The last service before heading to the Common was held at the Locust Ridge Cemetery's American Legion Memorial Section.

"It's a long day," said Meyer.

Meyer served in the military for 37 years, four and a half of which were active duty. He retired at the age of 60.

"I understand Vietnam War veterans were rejected when they came back. It seems the new guys are beyond that," said Meyer, referring to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. "When they come back, they're welcomed back. I wasn't exactly welcomed back."

One man had asked Meyer where he had been, unaware Meyer had just gotten back from fighting in the Korean War.

"It wasn't bad," Meyer said. "No one knew there was a war going on."

Born in Brooklyn, Meyer moved to Vermont with his family at the age of 5. They lived in Townshend until moving to Brattleboro later on.

During the Common service, Brattleboro Union High School senior Breanna Sheehan said Memorial Day was not about mourning.

"But instead, it is about celebration, remembrance and appreciation," she said. "On this day, we have the lives of many brave men and women who gave their lives for their families, communities and nation to celebrate. In the past 100 years, our country has been involved in many conflicts around the world in order to keep its citizens safe and make the world a better place."

Sheehan said almost 650,000 men and women died fighting for the U.S. since World War I and 1,553 of them were from Vermont. About two people a day are killed in war today.

Lt. Col. Laura Caputo, who has 23 years of service in the Air Force and currently is in the Vermont Air National Guard, also did some research before giving a speech on the Common.

"Shortly after the Civil War, (Memorial Day) was a way to honor all Americans while in military service," she said, noting that 30 Brattleboro residents died in World War I, 52 died in World War II, three in Korea, six in Vietnam and one in Iraq. "It doesn't really sum up all of the losses. There were many conflicts before World War I. There was the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812. There are many fallen heroes from neighboring cities that aren't accounted for in these numbers. And worst of all, these numbers do not sum up the losses felt by the lives that were changed permanently from these fallen heroes."

She suggested using their stories as inspiration.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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