SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — After calling off last year’s ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Main Street in Wakefield was once again filled with the sights and sounds of the annual South Kingstown Memorial Day parade, with civilians, politicians, public safety personnel, active duty service members and veterans turning out to honor the memory of those from South Kingstown and around the country who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The parade did look a bit different, however, as no marching bands participated due to what the town said was an absence of band programs in its schools this year because of COVID-19. Instead, the town encouraged shops and restaurants around the route to play patriotic music to add to the atmosphere.
While the parade may have looked a bit different, it still followed the same route — starting on Holly Street before turning down Main Street and into Saugatucket Park for a wreath-laying ceremony at Veterans Monument.
Tony DiMichele and Harry Schleicher served as the 2021 Parade Grand Marshals. DiMichele, 96, is a World War II US Army veteran who served with the 83rd Division and stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, while Schleicher was a training pilot in the Air Force. Retired Army Col. William Babcock served as Master of Ceremonies for the wreath-laying, Bishop Wallace Hazard of the Community Church of God offered the invocation and benediction, and Sen. Jack Reed and Rhode Island Army National Guard Major Caleb Singer spoke.
“This Memorial Day, we pause to honor, admire and remember the gallant and courageous heroes of our armed forces who gave their lives in defense of our great nation,” said Reed, who was joined by fellow Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “From America’s birth to the present day, our forces have continued to selflessly pay the ultimate price for our freedom. Today, and every other day of the year, let’s bow our heads and remember these brave men and women with humble spirits and deep gratitude.”
A salute was given at the wreath-laying in honor of the fallen, with South Kingstown High School students Zach Siemmao and Andrew Menard playing taps.
“It’s a great community celebration (where) South County remembers the fallen and commits themselves to cherish not only what they did, but also emulate them in terms of trying to build a just and decent society and a peaceful world,” Reed said.
For Reed, it was great to be able to have such an event in person again.
“Last year it was disappointing that because of COVID we couldn’t come together, but this year we can,” Reed said. “We hope that that continues and that we’re able to rejuvenate the economy and rejuvenate all of these patriotic exercises.”
Over in North Kingstown, the annual wreath-laying ceremonies at Veterans Memorial Park and the Civil War Memorial, as well as at Updike Park and Elm Grove, took place.
Congressman Jim Langevin and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea were in attendance. Doreen Costa introduced the speakers, Parades Committee chairman William Pennoyer gave opening remarks and Army Chapel Rev. Lee Hardgrove offered the invocation and benediction. The North Kingstown Community Chorus sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before further remarks from Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Comstock. Nancy Hillner performed “America the Beautiful,” and Langevin and Gorbea spoke.
“Every Memorial Day, we take a break from our daily routine to pause and reflect upon the brave Americans who have made that ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and its ideals and principles and all that it stands for,” Langevin said. “We will never be able to repay the debt that we owe our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were willing to give their lives to defend us, our freedoms and our democracy.”
“Those of us who are from military families know that it’s really important that we come together, and on Memorial Day, give witness to the fact that we’re all in this together,” Gorbea said. “I believe as an elected official that what I can do best is live to honor those who have fallen, who’ve sacrificed so much, and to their families by being true to that oath we take as elected officials to protect the Constitution of the United States and of Rhode Island.”
Gorbea said that goal should be shared not only by elected officials, but by all Rhode Islanders, in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for this nation.
Sen. Alana DiMario, Rep. Julie Casimore and Rep. Robert Craven laid a wreath at the Civil War Memorial, while Gorbea and Langevin laid one at the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Memorial. The August and Coutu families, at the memorials for their sons, Army Cpt. Matthew J. August and 2nd Lt. Matthew S. Coutu, who both lost their lives in the Iraq War.
Janis Vancans played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and Hillner sang “God Bless America” before Hardgrove’s benediction, a volley from the firing team of the 23rd Military Police Brigade and the playing of taps by the 88th Army Band.