A Memorial Day Like No Other: Bedford Honors Veterans both In-Person and on TV

American Legion Commander Jon O’Connor speaking to those assembled at Veterans Memorial Park in observance of Memorial Day 2021


Boy Scouts from Troop 194 raised the flag at Veterans Memorial Park on Memorial Day

There is no such thing as dueling Memorial Day observances.

For the first time Monday, Bedford marked the holiday with two observances, which complemented each other. The official program was recorded and presented three times during the day on Bedford TV.

After state pandemic restrictions were lifted several days ago, commanders of the local veterans organizations organized an “unofficial” observance that replicated much of what normally takes place.  A few people on the televised ceremony also participated in or attended the actual.

At Veterans Memorial Park, live ceremonies culminated with the raising of the U.S. flag to full staff at noon by Scouts of Troop 194. About 35 people gathered, among them members of the town Patriotic Holiday Committee, Scouts, and several veterans and family members who attend annually.

Speakers were the two local commanders of veterans’ organizations. The Rev. Al Chisholm, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1628, cited the example of “the unity among those comrades who came together from every walk of life for a common purpose.”

Jon O’Connor, American Legion Post 221, addressed the apparent contradiction of the expression “Happy Memorial Day.” How would deceased veterans have felt about celebrating the day with barbecues and other activities, he wondered.

The commander said he thought they would approve, and “therein lies the happy part” of the greeting. He added, “The challenge is: can we earn that happiness?”

O’Connor also made special mention of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Alan J. Rooney, a 2011 Bedford High School graduate who died in November. Rooney, a former member of Troop 194, also was active in St. Michael’s Church CCD, O’Connor said. He joined the Marine Corps out of high school.

Earlier in the morning, a small group also followed the traditional Memorial Day route from the Korean and Vietnam monument on the American Legion grounds, to the Civil War memorial at Shawsheen Cemetery, and then to the bridge crossing the Shawsheen River on The Great Road. Each year a bouquet is tossed into the water from that bridge in memory of deceased Naval veterans.

On the Bedford TV program, which was 21 minutes long, Paul Purchia, chair of the Patriotic Holiday Committee, explained that, following state public health guidelines, “we are honoring our fallen heroes in a different way today.” He urged viewers to “find time to remember all of those heroes who went before us to keep us free.”

Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman, in her remarks. drew a contrast that spans a little more than 100 years.

She named the three combatants from Bedford who died during World War I, and noted that “there is no one left who can tell us what they were like as people.” But thanks to detailed records kept by some residents at that time, “we can imagine their experiences during wartime.” The boulder on the town Common is dedicated to all residents who fought in that war, she noted.

Fleischman then noted the combat deaths in Iraq of two Bedford High School graduates, John Hart in 2003 and Travis Desiato in 2004. “Their families still call Bedford home and many people knew these two young men very well and what kind of people they were.” The Carlisle Road bridge spanning the Concord River is named for them, “so future generations will recall their lives despite the passage of time.”

‘It doesn’t matter whether these losses were experienced last week or last century. The pain and sorrow remain,” Fleischman continued. “So we remember all who were lost and hold in our hearts those who returned. We acknowledge the debt we owe to all who served and the incalculable ways being sent into conflict changed their lives, their families, and their communities.”

State Rep. Kenneth Gordon of Bedford, recording in front of the State House, said battlefield sacrifice created the opportunity for people like him to serve in government.

Speaking over the sounds of nearby traffic and church bells, Gordon declared that “what is not debatable is the reason we have the opportunity to do our best for all of you is the sacrifice made by our military.”

Gordon, whose legislation resulted in the dedication of the Hart Desiato Bridge, also mentioned them, “heroes of Bedford who are never far from our hearts.” He thanked their families for their sacrifice and community service.

Gordon also acknowledged the residents of Bedford Green, the 69-unit apartment building opened on the campus of the Bedford Veterans Affairs Hospital several years ago to accommodate homeless veterans.

State Sen. Mike Barrett, whose district includes Bedford, chose to be recorded from his Lexington home.

During the pandemic, “We have learned a new vocabulary, like ‘essential worker’ and ‘first responder.’ The original first responders were the soldiers who died to keep us free and keep us secure. They embraced their responsibilities even though those responsibilities threatened them.”

The lives lost by the pandemic “deepens our appreciation of what families have gone through losing a loved one in defense of this nation,” Barrett said. “Let us be mindful of both experiences and appreciate the sacrifices and be grateful that some folks in Bedford care enough to celebrate this Memorial Day.”

Col. Katrina C. Stephens, commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Hanscom Ai Force Base, and Chief Master Sgt. William C. Hebb, group command chief, alternated sentences in their recorded presentation, which also featured still photos complementing some of their remarks.

Stephens thanked the town and the Patriotic Holiday Committee for the virtual observance and noted the gratitude felt by the Air Force at Hanscom.

The recorded program closed with the playing of “Taps” on two trumpets by BHS graduate Julia Simoneau and her mother Lorene by the side of a lake.

Former Selectman Joseph Piantedosi, vice-chair of the Patriotic Holiday Committee, acknowledged the passing of local veterans over the past 12 months. He read the list at Veterans Memorial Park as well as on the Bedford TV recorded program.

Following are the names:

World War II, Korea, and Vietnam: Hugh D. Simmons.

World War II: John M. Dietz, Maurice A. Gauthier, Leonard H. Kieley, Robert Mead, Maureen K. Oates, Eugene J. Isotti, and Albert G. Razzaboni Jr.

Korea: Frank M. Abrano, John W. Blomstedt, Dennis P. Cook, Sr., Harry L. Gerace, Sr., Charles R. Freeman, March E. Hanf, Thomas A. Kane, Joe T. Koytila, Frank M. Limoncelli, Lester J. Macklin, Wallace S. Oshiro, Marion Carpenter Sheridan, Arthur J. Smith, Jr., Raymond D. Sturgeon, Kevin D. Sullivan, and Earnest G. Ulrich.

Vietnam: Robert A. Cerullo, William A. Damery, Sr., Joseph J. Giusti, George L. Hand, Paulette B. Hill, Charles R. Higgins, Richard F. Hogan, Jr., Mary F. Leavitt, Kevin P. Murry, Michael L. Price, Wayne D. Prost, Barry Seidman, John F. Sozanski, Walter M. Weinfurt, and James S. Winner.

Afghanistan: Haley Kenny, Alan J. Rooney.

Peacetime: Peter M. Allard, Keith R. Hayward, John Kelleher, Michael MacDonald, and Timothy A. White.

There are individual granite markers at Veterans Memorial Park honoring residents and BHS graduates who were considered killed in action beginning with World War II. Piantedosi read the names as part of the virtual ceremony.

At the park, Deb Howard, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, and Doris Russell, president of the VFW Auxiliary, placed poppies on the markers, which has been the practice on Memorial Day.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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Images in the following gallery are by Barb Purchia – Click each to see the full frame

The Early Morning Observances

At the Anthony Hunt Hamilton American Legion/VFW Post

At Shawsheen Cemetery’s War Memorial

Honoring the Navy by Dropping Flowers into the Shawsheen River

At Veterans Memorial Park