“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – the 1.1 million American military service members who have died defending the United States since its founding 243 years ago.
That’s the message that was delivered by Memorial Day parade grand marshal Frank Haggerty – quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – at Lawrence Township’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Park May 25.
“I am humbled to speak today on behalf of our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen – especially on behalf of the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us,” said Haggerty, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1972.
The United States “stands on the shoulders” of the servicemen and servicewomen who paid the ultimate price, and through it helped the United States to “earn our independence, heal our fractured country and defeat tyrannical regimes and preserved liberty and freedom to countless populations around the world,” Haggerty said.
“(Memorial Day) is not a day of mourning, but a day of celebration in which we express our gratitude and respect, and pay homage to the heroic sacrifices of our fallen armed service members,” said the Lawrence Township native.
“We are indebted to them for all of the rights we hold dear, and for all the things that make America great. Because of their sacrifices, America stands as the universal exemplar of freedom and liberty,” Haggerty said.
In his remarks, Mayor Christopher Bobbitt reminded the attendees that while the Memorial Day weekend has come to mean the start of summer and a time to enjoy the freedoms and blessings that the United States provides, they “didn’t just happen.”
“Much like the chores and preparation that must occur before we can enjoy the summer months, our freedom requires a commitment to protect our ideals by serving, fighting and, if necessary, dying to protect our country,” Mayor Bobbitt said.
“Today is the day that we honor those who made this ultimate sacrifice, as well as mourn together with those that lost their friends and loved ones,” Mayor Bobbitt said.
Then it was the turn of Commander (U.S. Navy Retired) Andrew Tunnard, who was the master of ceremonies, to offer some remarks – noting that 50 years ago, the United States was in conflict over the Vietnam War.
Thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen – such as parade grand marshal Haggerty – were sent to fight in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Vietnam War protesters directed their anger over the Vietnam War at the military service members when they returned home, creating a rift that still lingers today, Tunnard said.
“Few would argue that the Vietnam veterans did not receive the thanks for their service that they were due,” Tunnard said.
“(But) try as we might, we cannot go back in time and fix the errors of the past. All we can do is to know what was done and move forward,” he said.
In between speakers, American Legion Post 414 Commander Charles Brothers announced the winners of the annual Memorial Day essay contest – Bernadette Maccaroni, who placed first; Tamara Tracz, who placed second; and third-place winner Josh Kriegel. All are students at the Lawrence Intermediate School.
Brothers, commander of American Legion Post 414, and Col. (U.S. Army Retired) Robert Watson, commander of the 112th Field Artillery Association, read off the names of the members who had died during the past year.
A wreath was placed at the memorial in Veterans Park by representatives of American Legion Post 414 and the 112th Field Artillery Association, followed by an artillery salute by the association’s cannon crew.
“Mission complete,” a cannon crew member called out after the cannon was fired for the third and final time.
And then a firing detail, made up of U.S. Army soldiers, fired their rifles three times while Lawrence Township police officers lowered the flag at the memorial as “Taps” was played by a bugler.