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Memorial Day services honor fallen heroes



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Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, the guests of honor during Monday afternoon’s Memorial Day services, during the ceremony. The group, which is part of a Battle of the Bulge Veterans’ association took a trip up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway later that day. Art McGrath. (click for larger version)
June 02, 2010
LITTLETON– A flyover of a World War II era plane marked the beginning and Taps the end of Monday afternoon's Memorial Day services.

After the annual Memorial Day parade, the Veterans' Memorial Bridge was packed as people honored the sacrifices of those who died in service to this country. Skies were hazy from smoke from forest fires in Quebec and the mood somber to reflect the occasion.

Among those on the bridge, seated next to the speaker's podium, was a group of elderly World War II veterans of the Battle of the Bulge who were on hand as the guests of honor.

Bill Sargent, a member of the American Legion and the chairman of the Memorial Day Committee, led the ceremony, introducing various speakers, including Rev. Carlton Schaller, of Littleton, who gave the invocation.

Following Schaller, Ron Bolt, the chairman of the Littleton Board of Selectmen, read a proclamation by the Board saluting the service of all veterans, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Not long after, a World War II era BT-13A training aircraft did a flyover of the ceremony, flying up the Ammonoosuc River, then turning around and flying downriver.

Sargent spoke of the distinguished guests at the ceremony, not just veterans of the Battle of the Bulge but a Pearl Harbor survivor as well. He noted that the veterans of that battle were the founders of what is today a national organization of Battle of the Bulge Veterans. The ceremony and parade Monday was the first official ceremony the men ever participated in as a group, Sargent said.

After the ceremony the group was scheduled to take a trip up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway.

During the famous 40 day Battle of the Bulge, which started before Christmas 1944 and continued through January 1945, 800,000 American and British troops fought members of the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS. Sargent noted that the weather in which they fought was one of the worst winters of the 20th Century.

There were over 90,000 American and British killed, wounded or taken prisoner during the Battle, which was a last ditch attempt by Adolf Hitler to end the war in Western Europe so he could concentrate on fighting in the east against the Soviets.

Also present were the mothers of three soldiers killed in war in Iraq: Karen Moore, mother of Alan Burgess, killed in 2004; Shawn Regnier, mother of Jeremy Regnier, killed in 2004; and Maryanne Rennell, mother of David Stelmat, who carried the jacket from his dress uniform.

Sargent read the names of each of the soldiers whose plaques are on the bridge, starting with soldiers from the Civil War. As he did so, a wreath was laid on the plaque. When he began speaking the names of soldiers from World War II, his voice choked. When reaching the Vietnam era and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he paused to compose himself.

When he introduced Susan Presby, the guest speaker, he noted that in her house growing up Memorial Day was second only to Christmas in importance.

Presby said that though she never served she was the proud daughter of a Korean War veteran who religiously observed Memorial Day. She noted that the day is not the unofficial start of summer, is not a day for barbeques, or a day off or when it is OK for women to wear white. It is a day for honoring those who died for this country. Her father's lessons in reverence make her who she is today, she said. Even in the hospital after a heart attack her father was concerned about his duties ordering flowers to decorate graves of veterans—one of which decorated his grave only months later.

We are the witnesses to the sacrifices made by servicemen, she said.

"Honor their memory and sacrifice. What they did mattered," Presby said.

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