Mourning the fallen

State Representative John Velis (left) speaks of his experiences as a veteran at the ceremony. Cindy Lacoste (right) was the Master of Ceremony for the day. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- The city held its annual Memorial Day Parade Monday morning,  with 29 groups representing the branches of the military, elected officials, first responders and other public services.

The parade began on North Elm Street near the Mestek property and continued south to their destination at Westfield Middle School. Once there, a ceremony was held across the street at Parker Memorial Park. The ceremony began with remarks from Master of Ceremony Cindy Lacoste, Past Commander of American Legion Post 124 in Westfield. She introduced Westfield High School band member Madison Curbello, who sang the National Anthem.

Paul Nimchick, Post 124 chaplain, delivered the invocation. Nimchick offered a message of not forgetting those who fought and died at home or abroad. Lacoste then spoke about the soldiers who fought and died in Europe in World War Two.

“On June 6, the world will observe the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Many Americans and citizens around the world will head to France and pay respects to the thousands of allied heroes who gave their lives to liberate a country and a continent,” said Lacoste, “We continue to lose heroes everyday in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and military training accidents and missions around the world.”

Hundreds of people gathered at Parker Memorial Park to watch the Memorial Day ceremony after the parade. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Lacoste then turned attention to Scott and Ilka Halliday, a Gold Star Family whose son, Christopher, was killed in Afghanistan in March of 2007. The Hallidays took part in the parade and were guests at the front of the ceremony.

What followed was a reading of Gov. Charlie Baker’s official Memorial Day Proclamation by Allie Masciadrelli, the Westfield ambassador for Project 351. Project 351 is a program started by former Gov. Deval Patrick that helps young students engage in community service.

State Sen. Donald F. Humason was a guest speaker for the event. He told of a recent session of the State Senate during which the senators ceased discussions and stood at their desks while saying out loud the names of those who died serving the country. He reflected on his father-in-law and great-grandfather, who both lost their lives serving in the Army.

“Today is Decoration Day, a day that we honor the fallen,” said Humason, “whether we go to the cemeteries to place flowers, or to keep a good wish in our heart.”

Mayor Brian P. Sullivan followed Humason as a guest speaker. Sullivan gave his thanks to those who serve in either the military or as first responders.

“Today is always an honor and a privilege to be the mayor of the City of Westfield. My job is to thank people,” said Sullivan.

Members of American Legion Post 124 perform a 21 gun salute near the conclusion of the ceremony. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Sullivan thanked the police department for lining the streets during the parade and ceremony, and for being there when they are asked to help. He also thanked the 40 members of the Fire Department who marched in unity with veterans. Sullivan then pointed out the Hampden County Sheriffs Department, who participates in the parade each year. Only eight days removed from the city’s 350th birthday celebrations, Sullivan thanked the community as a whole for coming out in droves and supporting the city.

City Councilor Brent B. Bean II was then called up to introduce his fellow councilors and other elected officials at the front.

The main speaker of the event was state Rep. John Velis, a U.S. Army Reserve Major who returned from a six-month tour in Afghanistan last year. Velis focused his speech on telling some of his stories from his multiple tours in Afghanistan. He spoke about the day he left the country in December of last year. As he was leaving, Velis happened upon a mural on the wall that read, “This is a tribute to all who have fallen during Operation Enduring Freedom. Live a life worthy of their sacrifice.”

Velis said that the mural was placed their to remind those who are leaving that not everybody gets to go home.

“Today is that day of the year, Memorial Day, where the honor the ones who are not coming home,” said Velis.

He told a story of an incident in Afghanistan that occurred while he was on a tour there. A group of U.S. soldiers were attacked and one of them stepped on an improvised explosive device and was killed. The IED damaged his body to the point where he could not officially be identified. There is a policy when a soldier cannot be identified as among the dead, a search must take place because they are considered missing. The search began and the U.S. troops were looking on one side of the river and the allied Afghan soldiers looked on the other. One U.S. soldier attempted to swim across the river to scold the Afghan troops for not looking hard enough, but he drowned in the process. Velis said that incident represented the lengths soldiers will go for their comrades.

The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute by members of American Legion Post 124. The salute was followed by taps, played by Westfield High School band member Hadleigh Leclair.

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