The weather was beautiful and the beach was calling. We took our usual bike ride into town for breakfast and heard there would be a parade at the town circle at 10 o'clock. The kids are always game for a parade, so the five of us headed over, sat on the grass and waited for it to get going.
The police circled as the high school band roughed its way through some patriotic warm-ups. Their enthusiastic struggle made the scene all the more "all-American." There were no floats, no one throwing candy. Just proud men and women marching, some with guns resting on their shoulders. Each with a memory-bank of snapshots from Europe or the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf. One soldier stepped in front of the microphone to detail the path they had taken around town that morning.
Prayers had been said at the World War II memorial. A wreath tossed into Oyster Pond to remember those lost at sea. There were moments of silence and tributes to heroes of Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We sang "America the Beautiful" as we all stood around the circle, looking at the faces of those who fought long ago and some not so long ago.
There were those from the Coast Guard — who watch the waters — prepared for terrorists who might find a way to disrupt this little piece of New England. It's white picket fences and smiling children conjure images of Norman Rockwell. The town has changed so much over the years, but happily it has stayed the same in many ways.
It is to me, like your town probably is to you. A precious place: not perfect, but close enough. A place that makes you glad to be American.
Then the Master of Ceremonies asked a simple question: "Will those of you in the audience who have fought for our country, raise your hand and be recognized?" Around me — here and there — the hands stretched up. The guy in the t-shirt with the scruffy beard. The man in the golf shirt with his granddaughter. There were others, scattered around the circle. Humble, but honored, they raised their hands. Just as they had when their time to serve.
Then, he asked those who had lost spouses in battle to raise their hands. Those who knew more than any of us, what it means to sacrifice for your country. There were fewer hands, but they were there. A woman, a few feet from us. She was with her daughter and her granddaughter. They had lost a husband, a dad, a grandpa. They knew what the day was all about. No one had to remind them.
And now, no one had to remind us. It was a simple parade, a moving ceremony. No floats, no candy. But I think in a way, my children got it, too. They watched silently. (That doesn't happen very often.)
At the end, we were asked to think of someone our family had lost in battle. I thought of my Mom's cousin, Harry Gray. He was 19 when he was killed at Iwo Jima. We have the letters he wrote home. In one, he speaks of having built the best bunker. He talks of being so far away and asks my Grandfather to look after his Mom. In another, my Grandfather tells him not to forget to write her often: you know how Moms are, he says.
I looked down at my 5-year-old son, Harry. I pray he never has to go to War. I pray I never have to raise my hand. But I am so grateful for the sacrifices of Harry Gray and the others, who've allowed us to watch this little town parade and feel blessed to live in the land of the free.
Good to stop and remember. It makes the trip to the beach, that much sweeter.
See you tomorrow,
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