Plans Set for Town’s 143rd Memorial Parade & Ceremony on May 18
Shown on a float in last year's Memorial Parade are Grand Marshal MSgt. Joseph Deslauriers Jr. and his wife, Lisa
The Grand Marshal and the keynote speaker for Bellingham’s 143rd Memorial Day parade and ceremony on Sunday, May 18, will provide plenty of local flavor.
The grand marshal is Sal Pilla of Bellingham, a World War II veteran who served in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and also at the Battle of the Bulge in Germany. A sergeant in the Army National Guard, the 93-year-old Pilla was a member of the 5th Armored Division.
The keynote speaker is Brigadier General William J. Thornton, a graduate of Bellingham High and a magna cum laude graduate of Northeastern University. General Thornton currently is the Director of Air, Space and Information Operations for Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
Appointed a general in 2010, the 51-year-old Thornton has been on 45 combat missions. As a captain from 1991 to 1993, he flew missions over northern Iraq to enforce the no-fly zone. While assigned to the Pentagon, Thornton deployed to Southwest Asia and led the Mobile Targets Division, developing and executing daily strike plans. In 2002, he was appointed as a White House Fellow and served as the executive secretary to the U.S. Trade Representative.
“Memorial Day is a time when we can pause to honor the memory of our service-men and -women for protecting us,” said Jim Hastings (left), who’s been chairman of the Memorial and Veterans Day Committee for the last eight years. “If it weren’t for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we’d be living in a different type of United States. They’re the ones who’ve enabled us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.”
The theme of the program is the significance of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Normandy during World War II, a strategy that forced Germany to re-focus its efforts on infrastructure and troop movement.
The parade will begin at 2 p.m. at the Memorial Middle School and proceed on Route 126 to the center of town. The procession will stop at the World War I Memorial (in front of Town Hall) for a rifle salute and placement of a wreath, which will be followed by the playing of “Taps.” The parade route will end at the town common, where the program will begin with an invocation, the National Anthem, and the Gettysburg Address.
The ceremony will continue with music provided by the Senior Center Chorus, the Bellingham High School chorus, and soloist Robert Oliver, a junior at Bellingham High. Hastings will then thank the Memorial Day Committee and military and civic groups for their participation before comments from the Grand Marshal. French citizen Gilles Logiet, a World War II veteran, will speak after Pilla.
Bob Bartlett, a U.S. Navy veteran, will read the names of Bellingham service-men and -women added to the War Memorial. This year’s additions include Nicholas Urmston and Jesse Duquette for service in Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Leo Anastos (Vietnam), and Craig Walker (Desert Storm). Bartlett also will list the names of Bellingham veterans who have died since last Memorial Day.
After his address, General Thornton will be escorted by the 1812 USS Constitution Marines to the Civil War Monument, where a wreath will be laid. Pilla will be escorted by the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers to the World War II Monument, where another wreath will be laid.
Also, students from the Bellingham Memorial Middle School will read their winning essays that detail the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Closing ceremonies will include the reading of the names of Bellingham residents who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. The names will be read by members of the Bellingham High School Band.
“Amazing Grace” will be played by the Brian Boru and Quaboag Highlanders Bagpipe Bands, followed by a rifle volley, “Taps,” by the Bellingham High Band, and a closing prayer.
“The Committee encourages all to attend the closing ceremonies on the common after the parade as we honor our fallen service-men and -women,” Hastings said.
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” after the Civil War. During the post-Civil War period, children traditionally decorated graves with flowers. To honor that tradition, children are encouraged to bring a small plant that will be planted at the Civil War Memorial.
Some of the parade participants will include the U.S. Army Color Guard of Natick; the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard from Fort Devens; the U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard; the Grand Marshal; Bellingham High School Band; Bellingham Memorial Middle School Band; Douglas High School Band; Blackstone-Millville Middle School Band; Brian Boru Bagpipe Band of Woods Hole; State Police Pipes and Drum Band; Quaboag Highlanders Bagpipe Band; the 1812 Constitution Marines; the Blackstone Valley Young Marines; the 13th Mass-achusetts Volunteers, a Civil War re-enactment group; the U.S. Navy Color Guard and Ceremonial Drill Team from Groton, CN; the Massachusetts State Police Mounted Detail and riderless horse; the Crawford family and its float; and fire departments from Hopedale, Blackstone, Franklin, Medway, Wrentham, and Woonsocket.
Other participants include elected town and state officials, the Bellingham Fire Department and antique fire apparatus, antique fire trucks, the VFW Ladies Auxiliary float, the Bellingham Women of Today, the Bellingham High girls basketball team that was sectional champs, Bellingham Boy and Girl Scout troops, the Bellingham girls softball teams, Bellingham Youth Soccer teams, a VFW float, and a Town of Bellingham float.
“Any veteran who would like to march can contact me or just show up at the Middle School,” Hastings said. “We welcome all veterans to participate whether in uniform or something designating your branch of service.”
The Memorial Day Committee once again has assembled an impressive lineup for the parade and the program. Besides Hastings, the members are Bob Bartlett, Marilyn Fuller, Kevin Houlihan, Sam Cowell, Paula Saliba, Kirk Crawford, Allen Crawford, Melinda Crawford, Debra Parker, and Wade Parker.
The committee requests that all parade participants refrain from throwing candy into the crowd because of the solemn meaning of the holiday.
“The committee is proud of our lineup for Memorial Day,” Hastings said. “I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize it again — it’s the people in military uniforms who are heroes, not professional athletes or movie stars.”