Memorial Day: Honoring those ‘who gave their best when called upon to defend their country’

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Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

MANCHESTER NH – The rainstorm that blanketed the Manchester morning was long in retreat by early afternoon, when the Queen City’s Memorial Day Parade was held. When the observance ceremony in Veterans Park started shortly after 2:30 pm. the weather was clement—though the skies were still overcast, and the temperature chilled. It was nice for Nature to cooperate to make the Memorial Day remembrance pleasant for all who attended.  

Tim O’Brien’s “The Things That They Carried,” a short story about an American infantry platoon in Vietnam, is arguably the best bit of literature to come out of that controversial war. One of the things that all veterans carry is their memories of lost comrades. Memorial Day is never easy for them, as the memories—always alive—can become burdensome. 

But that’s why we have Memorial Day, as Congressman Chris Pappas pointed out in his speech. When processing the individual tragedies of war, which lasts a lifetime for many, it is nice to have the elements as allies, along with the scores of the people who showed up to honor both the fallen, and those who came back, as well as those still serving. It’s nice when everything is on your side and going your way.

Hosted by Manchester Veterans Council Commander Beliveau, the observance ceremony took place on the band shell before shifting focus to the Elm Street side of Veterans Park, where a new memorial was unveiled. Mayor Joyce Craig and Congressman Chris Pappas gave good speeches, brief and to the point, hitting all the points of what Memorial Day means and why we were there.

 Former Alderman Mike Lopez, Manchester’s fabled “Mr. Veteran,” shared the dais but did not speak. A Vietnam vet who enlisted scores of Queen City kids when he was an Army recruiter, Mike has served veterans and their families for years as a hard-working member of Veterans Services Organizations. He was there to bear witness to those who were lost in his war, and to all the wars in which Americans served.


Slideshow photos by Jeffrey Hastings.

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“Always Much More Work To Do”

The ceremony kicked off with a benediction dedicated to those “who gave their best when called upon to defend their country” delivered by Manchester Veterans Council Chaplain Bill Morin. The America Legion Auxiliary, which is the Legion’s branch for women who are not vets, led the Pledge of Allegiance.  

And then it was Mayor Joyce Craig’s turn to speak. 

“I’m honored to be here with all of you to pay respect to and honor all of those who selflessly served our country,” she began. “To all of the veterans and to anyone actively serving in our military, I’m grateful for your dedication and your commitment to our country. You’re an inspiration to all of us.

“Memorial Day is a solemn day,“ she said. “We pause and remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who made the ultimate sacrifice. – It is a time to reflect, and honor these great American heroes.” 

The Mayor gave a shout-out to Veterans Park, which serves as a living memorial for Manchester military personnel. 

“We’re surrounded by trees dedicated to Manchester residents who fought and died in Iraq,” she said. “There are benches and flagpoles that represent each branch of the military.  And there’s a new Battlefield Cross Memorial, donated by the Disabled American Veterans, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

“On this Memorial Day, I’m honored to be here with all of you, to remember and to pay respect and to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.

“I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to all of the servicemen and women and their families who have given so much.  Our freedom and our opportunity comes with great sacrifice and we must never forget.”

Mayor Craig then thanked Dan Beliveau, Mike Lopez, Bill Morin and the Manchester Veterans Council. 

“Please know, our city is proud of and grateful for the services of our American heroes,“ she said before passing the speaker’s baton to Chris Pappas.  

Manchester Veterans Council Commander Dan Beliveau. Photo/Jon Hopwood

Manchester-born like Joyce Craig—he’s a Central High grad, while her alma mater is Memorial—Chris Pappas serves as the Chairman on the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Veterans Affairs down in Washington. Chris is a regular sight up at the Manchester V.A. Medical Center, where he was known to mingle with veterans in the waiting rooms before the Pandemic.

After thanking Commander Beliveau and Mayor Craig, Chris Pappas referenced the Pandemic in his opening remarks.

“I’m just so pleased  we can all be together, in person, to remember this important, historic day in our nation’s history—Memorial Day.”

Congressman Pappas expressed his appreciation to the veterans and veterans services organizations that worked on behalf of veterans every day of the year, and to the family members of those who have served as well as to the Gold Star Families for their sacrifice.

“The history of Memorial Day goes all the way back to the Civil War era,” Pappas said. Off to his left was  the ancient memorial honoring the most deadly of all American wars in terms of American lives lost. The Civil War monument is now behind a chain link fence, awaiting renovation.  

Pappas told his audience how 33,000 Granite Staters participated in the war “to defend the Union,” and   6,000 of them were lost. 

“…The people of New Hampshire decided on their own – not because of an act of Congress or a Presidential order – that it was important to remember the lives that were lost. So community members started to gather together to pray, and to place flowers on the graves of their war dead.

“This was long before Decoration Day and then Memorial Day became an official US holiday,” he said.  “Local commemorations like the one we are participating in today, became annual occurrences. And eventually that national day honoring nation’s our war dead became official. 

He addressed the meaning of Memorial Day.

“Today, the toll of war remains heavy on our Gold Star families of fallen service members.  That’s why this day and this ceremony is so important for us to commemorate and so important for us to participate in,” Pappas said.

“On Memorial Day, we gather to offer our thanks and our prayers to service members who have given what President Lincoln called, ‘the last full measure of devotion to defend our country.’ We gather knowing their passing leaves a hole in the lives of friends, families and communities that our words never alone can fill.” 

Chris Pappas spoke more about the losses faced by the families of those military personnel who have fallen.

“It’s an empty chair at a dinner table. It’s a bedroom that remains untouched for years to come. It’s an absence felt by families every minute, of every day.

“Their selfless sacrifice is the price of the life we all enjoy. It’s the real cost of the freedom we have today. And that cost means we all owe something in return.

“They gave their lives for us. They might not have known us, but they gave it for us, and for our nation, and for everything our country stands for. 

“We are indebted to them for their patriotism for their bravery and for their sacrifice,” Pappas said. “While that debt can never fully be repaid, it’s our responsibility as Americans to never forget our nation’s heroes who laid down their lives on battlefields near and far for the United States of America.”

Memorial Day honors the lost, but it also reminds us of our obligations to those who returned. 

“It’s also our duty to ensure that when service members return home, that we are there every step of the way to provide the support, and the care and the respect that they have earned,” he said.

Declaring that “New Hampshire is second to none” where community, businesses and individuals come together to support and honor the fallen, returned vets and military families,  Congressman Pappas said there’s always much more work to do. He quoted remarks by President John F. Kennedy:

“’As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. So let us follow our words today with action, let’s always be worthy of the sacrifice of those who have given their lives for this great country. – God bless the fallen, our troops, our veterans and God bless our great country.’

“It’s great to be with you all,” Congressman Pappas said. He was followed by a staffer from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen office, who read a letter from the senator. Andrew Patterson, the head of the New Hampshire Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, dedicated the Battlefield Crosses memorial with a speech on the history and sacrifices of the Vietnam War.

Battlefield Crosses

The ceremony then moved to the new memorial, where individual sculptures on granite plinths honor the fallen of this country’s wars since World War One, once known as  “The War to End All Wars” due to its then-unprecedented savagery. 

The highly realistic sculptures represent the combat rifle of an infantryman topped by a helmet. This is the traditional improvised battlefield grave marker, memorializing a dead service member on the ground on which they fell. 

Mayor Joyce Craig was given the honor of placing one of the two wreaths. The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 41, represented by Chapter President Ray Goulet, placed a wreath to honor their fallen comrades. 

While the Mayor helped with the unveiling of the Vietnam War monument, Congressman Pappas unveiled the monument honoring veterans serving since the 9/11 Attack, and Mike Lopez unveiled the World War II memorial. Monuments honoring the fallen of World War I and the Korean War are expected to be unveiled on Veterans Day, Lopez said.

The Battlefield Cross memorials are realistic sculptures representing the combat rifle of an infantryman topped by a helmet. 

The Vietnam War Battlefield Cross features a “steel pot” M1 helmet (with net used for camouflage)  on top of an M16 assault rifle, while the post 9/11 monument features the current Kevlar helmet on a newer version of the M16. The WWII Battlefield Cross features a steel pot helmet on top of an M1 Garand rifle, the standard issue of Army infantrymen at the time.