Acton Observes Memorial Day
By Franny Osman
ACTON: Acton’s annual Memorial Day parade stepped off from the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School at 10:15am on May 29, and headed toward Woodlawn Cemetery, with multiple marching bands, members of the Acton Select Board, state legislators, public safety officers, Acton Minutemen historic reenactors, and Scouts. The day was warm, but not so hot that band members would likely faint, as they do on occasion. Gail Sawyer, chair of the Ceremonies and Public Celebrations Committee, led the parade and emceed the ceremony. Behind her in the parade rode James MacRae, Acton Veterans’ Service Officer and Gail’s fellow organizer of the event, with Colonel Henry Hogan, a Vietnam-era veteran and local attorney honored as Grand Marshal of this year’s parade.
Before a crowd of a few hundred Actonians at Woodlawn Cemetery, Boy Scouts read Governor Healey’s proclamation for the Memorial Day observance, laid a wreath, and raised the American flag as the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School Marching Band played the National Anthem. The Acton Minutemen let off a three-gun salute and James MacRae shared a biography of Colonel Hogan and presented Hogan with a flag box.
Select Board members Dean Charter and Fran Arsenault read the names of local veterans who have died this year. Select Board Chair Jim Snyder-Grant encouraged us to support and listen to each other, and remember those who are gone. A transcription of his speech follows.
“Good morning. It’s great to see everyone here. Thank-you for joining us here on Memorial Day 2023. It’s an honor to be here. For those that marched today, we passed the memorial at the Town Common. The words written there start with this: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts & the Town of Acton, cooperating to perpetuate the fame of glorious deeds of patriotism, have erected this monument in honor of Capt. Isaac Davis, & privates Abner Hosmer & James Hayward, citizen-soldiers of Acton & Provincial MinuteMen, who fell in Concord the 19th of April A.D. 1775.
That was written in 1851, on the eve of another important war where once again the patriots of Acton came together to keep the nation together. From the ashes of that civil war, arose the practices and ideas that eventually came together as Memorial Day.
We've just heard about the horrors of the civil war, with hundreds of thousands of deaths; and the prisoner of war camps where captured soldiers were mistreated badly. One of those prisoner of war camps, in Charleston, South Carolina, built on an old race course, became the location for perhaps the first decoration day, just months after the end of the war. Recently freed formerly enslaved people came together to individually rebury more than 250 union soldiers who had been left in a mass grave at the race course, because they understood that the arrival of their newly recognized freedom was because of the sacrifice of those soldiers. After the reburial, there was a solemn ceremony with flowers and marching and speeches with thousands in attendance, almost entirely formerly enslaved people to honor the sacrifices that had led to the end of chattel slavery in the US. That sense of deep thanks and appreciation for the sacrifices of warriors led to more Decoration day ceremonies across the country, formalized as the national Memorial Day holiday in 1971.
Each time our country went to war, Acton answered the call. Each cause was different, but one result was always the same: some of our bravest men and women went off to fight, some didn’t come back, and those that did come back, were changed. Families mourned, and made do, and carried on. The Town, State and Nation do what they can to honor those who sacrificed, and support the survivors. What we do is never quite enough to meet the immensity of the need, so we are called to try to do more. So we have events like this, where we come together in solemn witness to thank and support those who survived war and those who did not, and their families and friends. We must always come together at events like this to reflect and reaffirm that those of us who are still here, we are here to support each other and remember those who are gone. We remember the achievements of those who have left us, their courage and their dedication. We must honor their memory by living our lives to the fullest and by always striving to make our country a better place. We must never forget their sacrifice, and we must always be grateful for their service.
Thank you so much to everyone for being here today. Each of you have your own stories, your own reasons for being here. In my case, it’s the stories of my uncle Norris, who waited until near the end of his life to finally open up and share his war stories. There are plenty more stories out there to be shared and learned from. Please, seek each other out, talk and listen and learn. This is one of the simplest ways we can support those impacted by war, by sharing the memories and weaving these hard-earned lessons into all of our lives. Thanks for listening, and thanks for being here. May the spirit that unites us bless us and help us carry on.”
PHOTO: Acton Veterans’ Service Director James MacRae (left) and Select Board Chair Jim Snyder-Grant after the ceremony.