Virtual Memorial Day tribute still moving

May 28, 2020 by

Published May 28, 2020

NRHS DRUM MAJOR Christopher Nearing volunteered to play “Taps” for inclusion in the virtual Memorial Day tribute video produced by NORCAM.  (Richard Stratton Photo)

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — North Reading’s veterans who died in combat were not forgotten on Memorial Day even without the ability of the town to host a traditional Memorial Day parade led by the North Reading Minit and Militia and the Marching Hornets, and celebrated by people of all ages in the town.

What was to be the 46th annual event hosted by the Minit and Militia was sidelined due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements. But the town and various veterans groups, inspired by Veterans’ Services Director Susan Magner and her Veterans Events Committee and the VFW, rallied around the flag anyway to create the virtual Memorial Day celebration.

Small flags were still placed beside the graves of each veteran interred in the town’s three cemeteries — Riverside Cemetery on Elm Street, Harmony Vale Cemetery on Chestnut Street and Park Street Cemetery. Red, white and blue bunting and golden lights were hung on the bandstand on the common in honor of all Gold Star families who have lost loved ones to the ravages of their service, whether in battle or due to illness, injury or complications from PTSD.

The Roll of Honor was read at each cemetery by Minitman Geoff Bemiss who served as chaplain for the company, and a five-member Honor Guard from the Minit and Militia still fired their musket volleys with pride and bowed their heads in solemn prayer during moments of silence at each cemetery.

KOREAN WAR veteran Gordon Hall lays a wreath at the Korean War memorial on the Town Common to commemorate Memorial Day. (Richard Stratton Photo)

North Reading has sent its sons, and sometimes daughters, off to war since pre-Revolutionary times, beginning with the French and Indian War, followed by the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam through the more recent wars in the Middle East that continue to this day.

“Taps” was played on the Town Common by North Reading High School graduating senior Christopher Nearing, who has served as drum major for the Marching Hornets this year. He came forward to volunteer to be involved in this virtual tribute to the fallen.

New wreaths and fresh flags were placed at the town’s war memorials on the top of the common and at each memorial marker in town of those killed in action. This was done by Gordon Hall and Rich Stratton. They were doing double duty as veterans — Hall of the Korean era and Stratton of Vietnam — and both have dedicated decades of their lives in the service of the Minit and Militia, keeping American history alive for present generations while also assisting in the many historic restoration projects at the Rev. Daniel Putnam House on Bow Street that will keep the town’s history alive for generations to come. The year 2020 marks the 300th anniversary of the Putnam House in Colonial-era America when the inhabitants settled their first minister to enable the creation of the North Parish of Reading.

All of these ceremonies were captured on video or in still photographs and melded into a tribute of nearly 70 minutes in length by the wizardry of the NORCAM staff of Rob Carbone, Phil Healy and Jason Smith, and released on local access cable for several shows throughout the day and on their YouTube and Facebook feeds on Monday.

Interspersed with the ceremonies were many interesting interviews and tributes by local residents and veterans, some of which were created by the magic of social media platforms and submitted to NORCAM for inclusion while maintaining social distancing. Magner read Governor Baker’s proclamation, Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto offered greetings from the town, Pastor Rachel Fisher of the Aldersgate Church offered the invocation and benediction and Select Board member Liane Gonzalez read a moving poem and offered her thoughts on the sacrifices made by so many men and women.

Two Gold Star family members offered tributes to their own heroes: Linda Russo recalled the sacrifices of her husband, the late Robert Russo, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who fought through PTSD, and Kristi Stephens, daughter of Spec4 Ed Stephens, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, who spoke of his many sacrifices on behalf of herself, her mom and her four siblings. Her dad was just 17 when he enlisted to serve, not knowing then that the effects of the war would last throughout his life. Also offering their thoughts about what Memorial Day means to them were Stratton and Roy Walters, a Korean War era veteran and charter member of the Minit and Militia, as well as VFW Post 10874 Commander Arthur Cole, a Vietnam veteran. Representing active duty personnel was North Reading resident SFC Amy Conti of the Mass. National Guard.

The tribute ends with still photos of past Memorial Day parades and the Minit and Militia ceremonies, and an ode to the most famous music composer of the Civil War-era, North Reading’s won George F. Root, who spent his boyhood growing up in what would become North Reading in 1853 and whose songs were played on both sides of the battlefield (with different lyrics!). Though he traveled the world, he ran summer music schools and concerts in his beloved hometown at the Third Meetinghouse, which was built when he was 9, and it is here he is interred at Harmony Vale Cemetery. This summer marks the 200th anniversary of his birth.

To check out the video, go to https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCM9taxt0pAzIxBJfQsMrrdw and share it on social media; or visit NORCAM’s website: www.norcam.org, check out the public access channels on Comcast or Verizon, or follow the link on the Transcript’s Facebook page or website.

Magner also arranged to have hot meals delivered to about 20 veterans and their families in town on Memorial Day compliments of Pat and Kathi Lee of the Horseshoe Grille. They, like all restaurant owners in town, are counting down the days until June 8 when they anticipate a soft re-opening for in-house and outdoor reserved seating, with proper social distancing, one more step to returning to normalcy.

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