BENNINGTON -- Before starting up their grills or sharing a meal with visiting family members, many residents of Bennington and Shaftsbury took some time on Monday morning to pay tribute to the fallen veterans to whom the holiday is dedicated.
Bennington's parade began at 12 p.m. at the old middle school on Main Street, turned right at the Four Corners, and continued up North Street to the Vermont Veterans' Home. In Shaftsbury, the parade began at 9 a.m. at Cole Hall, on Buck Hill Road, and toured the village. Both parades saw a relatively good turnout, despite rain throughout the morning and the threat of showers in the afternoon.
The Bennington parade featured a giant cake float, entitled "Celebrating More Birthdays" from the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, as well as performances from both the Wild Country and Crossover Cloggers. The Mount Anthony Union High School Band, who had marched in Shaftsbury earlier in the morning, and MAU Middle School Band were both in attendance, as were members of Bennington's Boy Scouts Troop 353 and the Cancer Center Community Crusaders.
In Shaftsbury, the parade was lead by a group of classic vehicles, including a retired U.S. Coast Guard Jeep. Following close behind were the MAUHS band, representatives from the NORSHAFT Lions Club, and engines from the Shaftsbury and Bennington Rural Fire Departments. Also walking with the parade were Shaftsbury select board members Tim Scoggins and Mitch Race, along with Shaftsbury state representative Alice Miller. Father Bob Wiseman of The Church of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, opened the parade with a prayer from the steps of Cole Hall, as a wreath was placed in front of the town's "Honor Roll," which lists the names of those from Shaftsbury who were killed in the line of duty.
Of course, the most celebrated participants in both parades were the veterans, representing organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans. Ranging in age from young men just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan to those who fought in World War II, some veterans handed out candy to children, while others waved to passersby from behind car windows or from the back of trucks. Every one, however, was applauded by the assembled crowds.
The Bennington parade culminated in a ceremony at the Vermont Veterans' Home, where a bagpiper performed "Amazing Grace" and two trumpet players from the MAUHS band performed a duet of "Taps," as Bennington's Gold Star Mothers placed a wreath on the memorial on the front lawn. VVH chaplain Ken Coonradt began the ceremony with a prayer, and then read a speech written by 21-year Navy veteran Don Tetreault, who was too ill to deliver the speech in person. In the speech, Tetreault reminded those in attendance that on Memorial Day, we celebrate those who have fallen not because it has been ritualized, but because we want to.
"It was a great speech," said Coonradt, "I wish he could have been here to deliver it."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB