Where muskets meet Zoom: Old and new converge for a virtual Memorial Day

May 21, 2020 by

Published May 21, 2020

READY. AIM. FIRE! The North Reading Minit and Militia honor guard salute the town’s fallen soldiers interred at Harmony Vale Cemetery on Chestnut Street. From left: Pvt. Bill Peacock, past Capt. Gordon Hall, Michael Peacock, 12, Keith Major, 16, and Tim Brooks. (Maureen Doherty Photo)

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — Like everything else that has been turned upside down over the last two and half months in the wake of COVID-19, the town’s observance of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, May 25 will be anything but traditional.

Please don’t head over to the Town Common next Monday morning expecting to participate in or watch the town’s homegrown parade of veterans, youth groups, politicians, fancy cars, noisy trucks, decorated bicycles, floats and the Marching Hornets. None of that is taking place this year.

However, the solemn occasion and tribute to those brave souls who sacrificed their lives in wartime for the freedoms we enjoy today will not be forgotten here.

A virtual celebration comprised of a collaboration between the Veterans’ Services Department and other town officials, along with the North Reading Minit and Militia, NORCAM and the North Reading Transcript is currently in production to be released on local access cable and Facebook in time for the holiday.

This past Saturday morning, members of the Minit and Militia held private ceremonies at each of the town’s three cemeteries — Riverside, Harmony Vale and Park Street — during which a roll call of honor was read followed by a musket volley salute and moment of silence. Ordinarily, these ceremonies are held early in the morning of Memorial Day, prior to the parade, and the public is most welcome to attend. But out of respect for the social distancing rules and limits on the number of people gathered in one place under the governor’s state of emergency intended to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus under current CDC guidelines, the ceremonies were held early this year. Doing so enabled the observances to be video-recorded by Rob Carbone, the executive director of NORCAM, and photographed by Maureen Doherty, editor of the North Reading Transcript.

Throughout this week, Carbone and his team, comprised of Phil Healy and Jason Smith at NORCAM, are using the video segments and still images to create a virtual Memorial Day experience to be broadcast to the community on the holiday itself. All of this footage is being combined with another series of video interviews featuring local veterans, politicians and town officials recorded by NORCAM over the past few weeks over social media conferencing platforms like Zoom. Additional footage of local clergy, Gold Star families and active military personnel will be added to the mix too.

Interspersed between this footage and set to music will be photos from past Memorial Day parades along with photographs of the decorated homes in town submitted by residents for NORCAM’s use this past Monday.

Among the participants who will serve as guest speakers in the video are: Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto, Select Board Chairwoman Kathryn Manupelli, Veterans’ Services Director Sue Magner, Pastor Rachel Fisher of the Aldersgate Church; veterans Roy Walters, U.S. Army, Korea; Gordon Hall, Army Air Corps, Korea; Gary Priest, U.S. Army, Korea; Richard Stratton, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam; Arthur Cole, U.S. Army, Vietnam; John Watson, U.S. Navy, Vietnam; Joe Veno, U.S. Coast Guard, Vietnam; Jim MacLaughlin, U.S, Navy, Vietnam; CCMSgt. Michelle Curran O’Keefe, Mass. Air National Guard (active); SFC Amy Jean Conti, Mass. Army National Guard (active); as well as Kristi Stephens, Gold Star Family of Ed Stephens, U.S. Army, Vietnam; and Linda Russo, Gold Star Family of Robert Russo, U.S. Army, Vietnam.

The Minit and Militia has organized the town’s parade, ceremonies on the Town Common, and visits to the graves of veterans in the town’s three cemeteries for about 45 years. The group was organized in the years leading up to our country’s Bicentennial celebration and two of its charter members — Gordon Hall and Roy Walters — were among the participants in Saturday’s ceremonies. They were joined by Capt. Rich Stratton, Geoff Bemiss, Bill Peacock, Tim Brooks and the company’s two youngest members, Keith Major, 16, and Michael Peacock, 12.

Community involvement

This week, town buildings and the graves of veterans will be decorated with American flags by the DPW. All residents are encouraged to recognize Memorial Day by decorating their homes, decks, porches and yards in red, white and blue in time for the holiday, so fly the American flag with pride. If at all possible to do safely, consider taking an older relative for a drive around town to enjoy these displays or befriend an elderly neighbor and go for a walk in your neighborhood, in the fresh air and sunshine, to admire the care and consideration that went into creating them.

And don’t forget to tune into the local access cable channels, YouTube, or any of the many local Facebook community pages, the public NORCAM and Transcript Facebook pages, or the town’s Veterans’ Services Department website to enjoy and share this virtual tribute.

Lastly, Veterans’ Services Director Sue Magner has asked residents to consider placing a light in their windows from Sunday, May 24 through Monday, May 25 in remembrance of all those who were lost to war.

Refer any questions about this year’s Memorial Day observance to Magner at nrvets@northreadingma.gov

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