CHESTERTOWN — The sacrifices made in battles long ago and continuing today in the war on terrorism were saluted in Memorial Day ceremonies Monday in Chestertown.
The enormity of the occasion was not lost on Gary Fellows, who delivered the keynote speech May 30 from a flatbed in the center of town — within sight of Memorial Plaza.
“We stand in the midst of patriots, and family and friends of whose who notably served, to say thank you,” said Fellows.
He portrayed American veterans as “ordinary people who rose to extraordinary times.”
They share the core values of courage, pride, determination, integrity and dedication to a cause larger than themselves.
Fellows explained that Memorial Day was initially observed as Decoration Day, established in 1868 to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.
He asked for a broader application of what is now a federal holiday — observed on the last Monday in May — and that all veterans be remembered every day.
“It’s their job to defend our freedoms. It is our job to defend and honor their memories” he said.
Fellows’ well-received speech followed a parade of police officers, first responders, Scouts, American Legion members, antique vehicles and the Father James W. Lutz Assembly of the Knights of Columbus.
The Kent County Community Marching Band, led by drum major Travis Hayman, performed a medley of patriotic tunes.
When veterans and their families “who kept the homes fires burning” while they were a away serving their country stepped out into the street to be recognized, they were greeted by loud applause.
Chestertown’s observance of Memorial Day began at 8:30 a.m. in Chester Cemetery under submarine-gray skies.
A large crowd gathered as American Legion Post 36 paid tribute to Vietnam veteran PFC Lawrence R. “Larry” McGinnis.
Gravely wounded in January 1967, McGinnis survived his battlefield injuries and returned to his native Kent County.
He died young, though, at the age of 37 in August 1983 when he fell from a boat while fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.
The tribute to McGinnis included the laying of a boxwood wreath, a rifle salute and the playing of taps.
A barber by trade, McGinnis, then 20, was drafted in 1966.
He suffered life-threatening injuries during Operation Cedar Falls, when his unit was ambushed during a minefield sweep.
McGinnis would spent six months in a full-body cast. While in a field hospital, before he was sent stateside, he was awarded a Purple Heart. He also received a Bronze Star.
The war wounds made it impossible for McGinnis to return to a civilian career as a barber. Ultimately he went to work for the State Highway Administration. He was an associate engineer at the time of his death.
Mike Smigiel, who served 12 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, delivered the keynote speech at McGinnis’ gravesite.
“We gather today not to mourn, but to honor,” said Smigiel, a Marine Corps veteran. “We honor these patriots when we say ‘thank you,’ when we keep our promise to care for and provide for them and their families, when we place our hand over our heart or salute.”
The tribute to PFC McGinnis is a way of showing our appreciation for the sacrifices that have been made to secure our liberty, Smigiel said.
“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle,” Smigiel said in closing.