In a small town such as Boyertown, you know it’s Memorial Day.
Flags fly from buildings and fire trucks. Streets are blocked off, neighbors sit out on lawn chairs, waving their flags. In this Berks County borough, as in so many small towns across America, patriotism, gratitude and community were very much in fashion for the holiday.
Everybody in this town of 4,000 seemed to know somebody in Monday’s parade.
Boyertown resident Michelle Bright sure did. Her son performed in the junior high school’s marching band.
She attends the parade every year: “I think it’s small town America, how all the small towns across America celebrate Memorial Day, community coming together, and honoring those who served.”
Those who served came to watch the parade as well – with many of the older vets attending in wheelchairs.
After 20 years of military service, retired Army sergeant Samuel Costa was happy not to be in the parade. He said he has marched enough, but still feels proud to stand on the sidelines: “I served in a lot of Memorial Day services myself, and I am glad that we do remember those who gave that last full measure.”
The mayor of the borough, Marianne Deery, said Memorial Day is a very emotional holiday for this tight-knit community: “We have all been affected by the various wars and we have all lost someone who is very dear to us, and so it’s important that they come out and show their strength and know that we all care one another.”
The parade ended at the town’s sprawling Fairview cemetery, where a crowd gathered for a memorial service. After wreaths were placed, three military personnel in dress uniform performed a fallen soldier ceremony, placing military boots and a helmet with a rifle. Marine Corp. Matthew McHugh said the duty was an honorable but difficult one.
“It’s extremely heavy, you feel the weight of everybody who is not here to watch it,” he said. “We have all known people who have gone and have not come back and so you really have to try to bear down and do it for them.”
McHugh’s family has a history of military service – with grandparents and uncles serving in different wars. McHugh was joined by his brother Michael, who is in the Air Force. After the ceremony, the brothers took a moment to look at a statue honoring Travis Zimmerman – a Boyertown High School graduate who died in 2006, while on duty in Iraq.
The statue is a bear in a soldier’s uniform; Boyertown High’s teams are known as the Bears. The bear stands up to salute everybody who comes into town, and to let them know that Boyertown is the kind of place where the emotions of Memorial Day are always close to the heart.