By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — On a perfect spring morning filled with crystal-clear blue skies, the townspeople came together to remember with gratitude the ultimate sacrifices paid by those who heroically gave their lives in the service of their country in wars and conflicts both here and abroad across the centuries.
The day began with early morning tributes led by the Minit and Militia at the town’s three cemeteries — Riverside, Harmony Vale and Park Street — plus the Blue Star Memorial at Ipswich River Park. At each stop, opening remarks, prayer and the Roll of Honor was read, Taps was played by a pair of talented high school trumpeters, Ivan Deiko and Marshall Murray, three musket volleys were fired, and a color guard was provided by Boy Scout Troop 750.
The tribute continued during the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade led by a Police escort vehicle, the Boy Scout Troop 750 Color Guard and the North Reading Company of Minit and Militia. The two couples serving as Honorary Parade Marshals rode in style, with Roy and Chris Walters being escorted by Mark Hall in his red 1968 Cadillac convertible, which has made an appearance in the parade for the past 41 years, while Geoff and Patty Bemiss traveled in Hall’s black 1962 Chevrolet Impala 409 convertible, driven by his brother, Jeff Hall.
For the first time since the town officially became a Purple Heart Community last summer through the efforts of Veterans Services Director Susan Magner, a Purple Heart float to recognize those service men and women wounded in combat and cited for their heroism with the Purple Heart Award — some posthumously — was part of the parade as well. U.S. Army veteran Jay Gurry, who was awarded the Purple Heart twice for his acts of heroism during the Vietnam War, received special recognition. He rode up front in the truck and other veterans and Purple Heart recipients rode in the bed of the truck tossing out candy to the youngsters along the route.
Gurry was again recognized during the post-parade ceremony at the top of the Town Common.
North Reading veterans also walked the parade route and many others were escorted in vehicles, including Vietnam veteran Alan Holmes, the commander of the North Reading VFW Post 10827.
The oldest veteran in attendance was 96-year-old Ed Piercey, whose service began at the end of WWII in 1945 with the U.S. Army. Although he chose not to ride in the parade route, he was recognized during the post-parade ceremony by Master of Ceremonies and Minit and Militia Sgt. Geoff Bemiss with a warm round of applause.
Walking the parade route and representing town officials were Select Board Chairwoman Liane Gonzalez, Town Administrator Mike Gilleberto and Town Moderator John Murphy.
The award-winning NRHS Marching Hornets provided the patriotic music which had many youngsters happily tapping their feet trying to keep up to the beat of the drumline.
By far the most numerous participants were the children involved in youth civic groups and youth sports in town. From Little League to Girls Softball and Youth Soccer to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Camp Fire and 4H Rounders, each group proudly carried their banners and eagerly tossed handfuls of candy to all the children lining both sides of the parade route. It’s probably the only time their parents allow them to pick up candy off asphalt and eat it!
Church floats were also provided by Trinity Evangelical, Union Congregational, Aldersgate and St. Theresa’s churches. And there was a plethora of antique cars, with the oldest being a 98-year-old Model T Ford belonging to North Reading residents Cliff and Ginny Bowers.
Rounding out the parade were numerous town vehicles from the Fire Department and the DPW, with the last being a unique Jeep provided by the National Guard 151st Reg. Support Group HHC.
During the post-parade ceremony held at the top of the common, not far from the war memorials, beneath the shadow of Old Glory and the POW-MIA flags billowing at half-mast, Sgt. Bemiss read the Roll of Honor of veterans with ties to North Reading who have died during the past year. They are: Frederick R. Bishop Jr., National Guard; Rudolf Boentgen, Vietnam, Army; William F. Colbert, Korea, U.S. Marine Corps; Stephen E. Doyle, Vietnam, Coast Guard; Richard N. Gerardi, Navy; Harold J. Heselton, National Guard; Carl E. Johnson, Army; Augustus “Gus” Lamont, Navy; Richard F. MacWhorter, Korea, Army; John J. O’Leary Jr., Berlin Crisis, Air Force; John J. Orben, Korea, Army; John S. Tobin, U.S. Marine Corps; Christopher P. Thomas, Army; William Tryder III, Vietnam, Coast Guard; D. Joseph Unni, Air Force; John R. Wiklanski, Vietnam, Army; Albert T. Williamson WWII, Army Air Corps; and George W. Warnock, Vietnam, Army.
Bemiss also recognized the loss of two men who served their country in other ways, Robert Mascola, who was a research scientist with NASA and worked on the Apollo space missions, and retired North Reading Fire Chief Edward O’Brien whose career included fighting the Worcester Cold Storage fire and participating in recovery efforts at Ground Zero after 9-11.
Offering the benediction was Rev. Brian McHugh of St. Theresa’s Church who acknowledged the sacrifices of the service men and women who put their own lives aside for the benefit of others.
“With the God-given gift of humility, let us bow our heads and begin with prayer. On this Memorial Day we come before the creator of mankind to remember those men and women who bravely served our country and as a result of their service were called home by our Lord,” McHugh said. “As we remember these individuals today who paid the ultimate price by giving their lives for our country, may we continue to grow in gratitude for the sacrifices that they made, allowing us to be humbled by their willingness to put their own lives aside for the benefit of ours. Father, carve their sacrifices into our hearts so we may never forget the loss of these heroes.”
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto read the Memorial Day Proclamation of Gov. Maura Healey and the Purple Heart Community Proclamation was read by Dan Mahoney, U.S. Army (RET), a member of the Veterans Event Committee.
The NRHS Marching Band played the Star-Spangled Banner and also American March Classics.
The speaker of the day was Select Board Chairwoman Liane Gonzalez. “No matter where their battle was – in the mountains of Afghanistan, deserts of Iraq or Syria, skies over Europe, islands of the Pacific, frozen terrain of Korea, jungles of Vietnam or elsewhere, the stories of the fallen matter and need to be told. Take a moment to read the 34 names on the memorial right here on the town common. Every name has a story,” Gonzalez said. “Duty, Honor, Country; they lived for it and they died for it. As a nation we must remind ourselves of the future they fought for and do our best to live up to those values in the days ahead.” (Her speech is reprinted in its entirety inside today’s Transcript).
A red, white and blue wreath was placed at the base of each of the five war memorials on the common by volunteers under the command of Commander Arthur G. Cole, North Reading VFW Post 10827. This was followed by the firing of volleys by the Minit and Militia under the command of Capt. Richard Stratton and Minit and Militia Charter member Gordon Hall.
Taps was then played by Ian Deiko and Marshall Murray. Rev. McHugh offered the Benediction and the ceremony closed with a rendition of God Bless America performed by the NRHS Marching Band.