Last week, as Barry Sherman barked out the command, "Veterans Attention,” the 2021 Boothbay Region Memorial Day parade stepped off.
As usual for the event, former Sgt. Barry wore a Vietnam era in-country uniform of camo utilities, jungle boots and a floppy hat frequently worn by Marines and soldiers operating in the boondocks. His hat, called a cover by Marines, had several nicknames, which I won't reveal as this is a family newspaper.
If you noticed, Barry no longer has a spring in his step. Years after his young legs carried his powerful body during two tours in Vietnam, he knows he will soon have to ask the magical medical mechanics to replace his knees. "I know, I know, I can feel the bones grinding, and the pain killers don't work. So I will have to do something, but I have obligations that come first," he said as the soft mist trickled down from a dark sky.
One of his self-imposed obligations was his annual role in organizing and commanding the vets in the Memorial Day parade. Barry comes by it honestly. His father survived the bloody South Pacific campaigns of World War II. For his heroic service as a Marine in World War I, one of his uncles was awarded the French medal, the Croix de Guerre.
On Memorial Day 2021, Barry drilled a group that included an active duty rear admiral and assorted captains and commanders, along with a seaman and private or two. A little man with a big smile marched in the front rank as Sgt. Barry barked out his commands.
His neighbors know him as Barclay Shepard, one of the leaders of the Woodchucks, a group of old guys with chainsaws who cut up trees, split the wood and distribute it to those who could use it on cold winter mornings. Barkley admits he no longer wields a chainsaw. He knows that there is something about old men using chainsaws that can lead to, let's just say, problems.
If you noticed, Barclay wore the eagles of a Navy captain on his shoulders. He is a retired U.S. Navy surgeon.
Few know that in February 1968, Barclay was stationed on a hospital ship off the coast of Vietnam. During the bitter battles of the TET offensive, helicopters lined up over his ship delivering dozens and dozens of wounded soldiers and Marines. Dr. Barclay’s skill and hard work saved many.
On this gray Memorial Day, Sgt. Barry and Doc Barclay could have stayed home by the fire, sipping hot coffee and watching the gentle raindrops nurture the spring flowers.
But they did not. In many ways, they could not.
You see, these men and the others who marched were there to help us remember those who served, those who were no longer there. The participants reminded us all that we all pay the bill when the politicians, pundits and posers demand military action to correct this or that perceived ill.
And for every serviceman or woman who did not come home, there are mothers and fathers, wives and lovers, children and friends who are left to mourn. One of these days, they will play "Taps" over the grave of the last of the World War II vets and the old men who remembered the bitter cold hills of Korea. In a few more years, Vietnam vets, like Sgt. Barry and Doc Barclay, will no longer march up the hill in Southport and down the hill in East Boothbay. Will the vets from Afghanistan and Iraq take their place?
In a world where political rancor divides families and friends, our friends and neighbors gathered together on a gray morning to remember those who served when called.
Attendees stood together in respectful silence as the brave community band played a hymn while the clergy preached remembrance. Some speakers reminded us that many vets who came home will carry their overseas burdens for the rest of their lives.
The events held in Southport, Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, East Boothbay, Edgecomb, Wiscasset, Dresden and hundreds of communities around our state and nation are all about us. Our neighbors stood together to remember those who died as our nation tried to honor the founders’ brave words.
They stood together with their kids, grandkids and pets to remember those who were no longer around to join us.
They stood as the Marine Corps rifle squad fired a volley, the marching vets snapped a salute, and we all bowed our heads as a trumpet player blew the somber notes of "Taps."
And we all remembered.