In 1982, amid tension with the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan gave a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. He remarked that the day is a day of ceremonies and speeches and, throughout the country, all will honor the dead of our nation's wars. "We recall their valor and their sacrifices," said Reagan. "We remember they gave their lives so that others might live."
In his now famous 1863 address at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln said, "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
And so it was, on May 27, Americans across the nation memorialized all of their heroes who have fallen over the course of the young country's existence. Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) leadership, on behalf of active duty Soldiers, joined communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pay tribute to the brave who lost their lives fighting to keep our nation free.
Lt. Col. Bryan Martin, garrison commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Natick (USAG Natick), addressed attendees during a ceremony at Wayland's Lakeview Cemetery. Martin recalled the words of Thomas Jefferson who said that occasionally the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
"Wayland has watered that tree since it was a little seedling," said Martin. "Preceding the birth of our country, when Wayland was still part of the Puritan village called Sudbury and then East Sudbury, English soldiers and local militiamen fought alongside allied Native American warriors against warring tribes. One hundred years later, Wayland was part of the birth pains of our nation. On Apr. 19, 1775, the eastern parish of Sudbury sent 115 men to Lexington and Concord."
Two men from the combined western and eastern Sudbury force died that day, including an 80-year-old who felt it was his duty to join to join his fellow men at arms. Answering that same call to duty, nearly every adult male living in the eastern parish of Sudbury served in the American Revolutionary War, fighting in places revered in our history--Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and White Plains.
"Since that initial watering of revolutionary blood and the subsequent establishment of the Constitution as our social contract with each other, Wayland men and women offered their lives in service to our country in all our nation's conflicts," noted Martin.
Another early (and unlikely) American patriot took her oath and enlisted in Bellingham, which combined its Memorial Day commemorations with the town's 300th anniversary. Deborah Sampson, the first American woman to serve in combat arms, joined the Continental Army disguised as a man under the pseudonym of Robert Shurtleff in the spring of 1781--167 years before women would be a regular part of the U.S. military and 232 years before the lifting of the combat exclusion ban.
As Sampson's first mission, she was sent to conduct reconnaissance on amassing British troops in Manhattan. She would see combat in the Battle of Yorktown, and then in again in 1782 in hand-to-hand, bayoneted combat near Tarrytown, New York. She was shot in the thigh during this skirmish, and removed the musket ball herself so that her sex would not be discovered by a doctor. Sampson eventually returned to full duty, and served until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. She received an honorable discharge, and returned to her home of Massachusetts, where she returned to traditional life and married and had three children.
In Millis, Massachusetts, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Pintagro, command sergeant major of USAG Natick, noted that New England was a much bigger fish in a much smaller pond in the mid-19th century. Inspired by figures like William Lloyd Garrison, eastern Massachusetts was also a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment. Unsurprisingly, Massachusetts and New England contributed enormously to the Union Army during.
"Since Civil War regiments were typically formed locally, the men and their families usually knew each other," said Pintagro. "Around 65 men from the area now known as Millis served in the Union Army, among them a sailor in his early twenties named William Newland. Seaman Newland served as a naval gun loader aboard the USS Oneida. His courage and steady hand in the face of intense enemy fire during the battle of Mobile Bay contributed to the capture of a Confederate ram ship and the degradation of Fort Morgan."
Seaman Newland received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Mobile Bay.
Decoration Day grew out of the heart-rending sacrifices of the Civil War. Several communities independently established local springtime tributes in honor of the Union fallen. Waterloo, New York was ultimately recognized as the birthplace of the holiday based on the quality of its annual memorial events, which included decoration of Soldiers' graves with flowers and flags as well as prayers.
In proclaiming the first Decoration Day in 1868, Gen. John Logan, who commanded the massive Union veterans' service organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, wrote that we should not only remember those "who died in defense of their country," but to also, "renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us…the widows and orphans." So from its inception, Decoration Day and its successor, Memorial Day, honored our fallen and the sacrifices of our military families and communities.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone, deputy commanding general of the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) and senior commander of NSSC, joined the Soldier Center's hometown of Natick on Memorial Day.
"On June 6, we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day," noted Malone. "Operation Overlord and the subsequent, hard-fought Allied breakout from the beachhead into the formidable, Axis-occupied France set the stage for the liberation of Western Europe."
On that day in 1944, more than 160 thousand Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy. As these troops headed to that sandy coast, General Dwight D. Eisenhower pledged that, "we will accept nothing less than full victory." With that, more than five thousand ships and 13 thousand aircraft supported the invasion, the largest amphibious attack and military airdrop history.
But that victory would come with a cost: more than nine thousand Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded.
"However high the stakes, the lives of those brave men were not lost in vain," said Malone. "The heroes across the beaches of Normandy and those who traversed the map of Europe during World War II embodied our Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. If we were to look at a smaller map, a map of this great American town, Natick, we would find reminders of those values throughout."
A few weeks ago, a Natick square was named local veterans, the Hladick brothers. Martin Hladick was a Water Tender 3rd Class and assigned to the USS Ancon and stationed off the coast of France on D-Day. Natick Army veterans Arthur Fishtine, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, Clarence Hawk Melanson, a Purple Heart and Silver Star recipient, and Seth Tiberieo all landed on the beaches of France on that fateful day. Between Natick's North Main and Jackson Court there is a street named for yet another Army veteran and World War II Prisoner of War (POW) Francis L. Fisher, and at the intersection of North Main and Bacon Streets are another two Natick heroes killed in action during WWII: Willian Hannagan and Thomas Whalen.
The list goes on of Natick Navy veterans who saw tours in Europe and the Pacific: Joseph Muzzi Francoise, Lawrence Hunnewell, and Edward Radock. The walls of the Morse Institute Library in Natick Center read like a book of heroism with the names of those who served.
"Natick is an extraordinary town, full of extraordinary heroes; all of whom knew that war is hell, but that someone had to do it," continued Malone. "It is because of that sentiment, for their 'someone has to do it' attitude, and for their selfless sacrifice, that we are gathered here today."
Natick Soldier Systems Center is no stranger to loss. Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, who served as deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (currently CCDC) and senior commander of NSSC, was killed in action on Aug. 5, 2014 in Kabul, Afghanistan. On Jul. 10, 2015, the Town of Natick renamed Kansas Street in honor of Greene and dedicated as General Greene Avenue.
Also to honor the friend and mentor of many at NSSC, Greene's name is read aloud during Boston's annual Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund ceremony. Over 37 thousand flags grace the hills of Boston Common in remembrance of every one of the Commonwealth's fallen heroes from the Revolutionary War to present. Malone, Martin, and Pintagro were in attendance.
When Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the codename for the Battle of Normandy, he said that "the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
Today, our eyes are still upon those who gave the ultimate sacrifice as we remember what America's children, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandparents, and great-grandparents gave for this country and for the freedoms we enjoy today.