“We kind of resurrected the ceremony,” said David Sulin, Second Vice Commandant of Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt Post 1 of the American Legion. “Past years, Rockland has had parades, but there were no parades during COVID, so we opted for this ceremony. I think the word is getting out that it’s a nice ceremony.”
Events of the last two years severely downsized the Rockland American Legion’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. The parade ceased, and either for personal health concerns or weather, few people attended the speeches and music that continued to mark the occasion.
With this year’s Memorial Day approaching, at least one person advised Sulin that the Legion shouldn’t bother. Some of the Legion’s organizers even told Sulin that they couldn’t find anyone to participate in this year’s annual ceremony.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said, in response.
Sulin organized a 40-minute ceremony that included Carol Bachofner, poet laureate emeritus for the city of Rockland; Russell Wolfertz, Commander; Sharon Heine, chaplain; Shawn Driscoll, immediate past commander; Marlene Hall and the Bay Winds North orchestra; a couple boy scouts and a girl scout.
Under blue morning skies and sunny 70-degree temperatures, the 2022 ceremony drew a crowd larger than previous years.
“Last year everybody was hiding under the trees to get out of the weather,” said Sulin. “Today, they were getting in the shade. I thought that was a nice change.”
Regardless of where attendees positioned themselves, Sulin’s goal was met: to instill energy, to bring people out, to enjoy a beautiful monument built by Rockland families, for Rockland residents.
When it comes to its family members in the service, Rockland has always flown its flag.
In 1812, Tolman Cemetery became dedicated to service members (on what is now called Lake Avenue).
In 1866, closer to the harbor, the townspeople began pooling their pennies for future construction of the Soldiers and Sailors monument where the Legion holds its ceremony each year at Chapman Park. Nowadays, according to Sulin, the monument is a popular spot for tourist photo ops and brief educations on the foundation that built the community.
This year’s speeches wove a theme of the individual’s contribution to the whole.
In Bachofner’s poem “A Wreath, A Flag, A Soldier’s Time” Bachofner writes: “We are mindful on Memorial Day that each has given what he could to save the places that we hold most dear.”
Wolfertz spoke of a quote given recently by Norman Schwarzkopf: “We were doing what our country asked us to do.”
Wolfertz said some people expect Vietnam Vets (including 178 soldiers from Knox County, according to him) to go around being ashamed of themselves.
“I’m not ashamed of myself, and I don’t think anyone who was over there was ashamed,” said Wolferitz.
Driscoll spoke of the pride that’s required of a man or woman who goes into combat. And thus, Sulin would continue later in his own remark: “We must live our lives as good, decent Americans in a manner that our fallen would approve. It’s our sacred duty to honor them by our actions, by our words, and by our deeds.”
“Please,” Sulin said. “in your heart of hearts, do not let Memorial Day degenerate in our collective memory into just another of those holidays when you can get a good deal on a new mattress or a used car. Remember our fallen and their families as they should be remembered.”
Among the audience members were a couple of city council members and a Rockland police officer.
Burpee Carpenter and Hutchins Funeral Home loaned its sound system for the event. The City of Rockland maintains the memorial parks. The American Legion Post 1 will put flags on any headstone that a relative can’t get to. Just contact the Legion with information on where to find the plot.
The Veteran’s Day Ceremony is held each year across the street at the Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt monument.