Flags adorn more than 360 Rye gravesites on Memorial Day

Parade, ceremony on May 28; Initiator of 'Pease Greeters' to speak

James Cullen

Memorial Day is one of our Patriotic holidays.  It was originally known as Decoration Day to honor the soldiers who had returned from the Civil War. Graves were decorated with flags and flowers.  A parade, ending, at the cemetery, was held to honor the soldiers who had come home.

Rye is a town with a history beginning before the birth of our nation.  It has provided soldiers and sailors for our military since the 1600's.

Soldiers who served in the American Revolutionary War are buried in some of the 59 family cemeteries which exist in Rye.  Graves of veterans from the War of 1812 through Viet Nam can be found in Central Cemetery.  Rye lost 38 in the American Revolutionary War.

In the Town of Rye there is an appropriate observance of Memorial Day. During the week prior to the holiday, American flags are displayed from the telephone poles in the Historic District.  Bunting is displayed on the Town Hall, Rye Public Library and the Public Safety Building.  The flags remain displayed through September 11th,"Patriot Day".

At 6 p.m. on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, all are welcome to join Veterans, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and other town residents who gather at Central Cemetery to place flags on the graves of veterans.  It is estimated that flags are placed on more than 360 gravesites.

Central Cemetery is impressive in both design and maintenance.  The portion bordering Central Road is a beautiful lawn with a flagpole and small podium--perfect for a Memorial Day Ceremony.  The flagpole was donated to the town on July 4, 1976 by the VFW Seacoast Memorial Post #8943 and its Ladies Auxiliary.  There is a marker on the ground in front of the pole which documents this donation.

This year the Rye Memorial Day Ceremony and Parade are scheduled for May 28, 2007 at 9:00 a.m.

The parade begins promptly at 9:00 a.m. in the Town Hall parking lot.  It ends near the flagpole in the Central Cemetery and is followed by a short ceremony, which honors those who have given their lives in defense of our democratic freedoms.

The format of this event has been the same the past six years. The planning and participation involves all ages within the community.

Lee Arthur and her staff at Rye Recreation administer the poster contest at the Rye Elementary School and the writing contest at the Rye Junior High School. The Memorial Day Committee selects the winning entries.  The winning posters are displayed and the winning writings are read at the ceremony.  Both are an important part of it, as is the awarding of gift and cash prizes donated by the Town and the VFW.

The Memorial Day Committee selects an appropriate guest speaker. The guest speaker is preferably an individual who is a Rye resident and is actively involved in supporting our military who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2007 guest speaker is Ed Johnson., a decorated Korean War Veteran and a resident of Rye Beach.  As Commandant of Seacoast Detachment #394 of the Marine Corps League, Ed has developed the group known as Pease Greeters who welcome the troops passing through the Pease Airport.

Those participating in the Parade and Ceremony form in the Town Hall parking lot.--Rye Police and Fire Departments, Rye Girl and Boy Scout Troops, veterans, the Winnacunnet Marine ROTC Color Guard. pipers and drummers from the New Hampshire Police Association Pipes and Drums, and the vintage Rye fire truck.  There is no rehearsal.  Most everyone knows how to march in a parade.  However, to ensure perfection, volunteers from St. Theresa Men's Club serve as parade marshals.

The Parade is also the presentation of the colors for the Ceremony.  Ten minutes of patriotic music and nine bells ring from the Rye Congregational Church to signal the beginning of the Parade.

The Ceremony is intended to be respectful of all and to provide appropriate honor to those who have died in service to our country.  Local clergy provide the Invocation and Benediction.  Kern Burnett and Kevin Schladenhauffen of Rye have provided music and the sound system for the last six years. Attendees sing along with the words of our National Anthem, America, and other patriotic selections.  The winners of the writing contests read their creations about Memorial Day and proudly receive their prizes.  The guest speaker offers appropriate words and fresh insights. The VFW conducts a wreath laying ceremony and a piper plays "Amazing Grace". The ceremony ends with Taps, which this year will be played by Camden and Christopher Lattimer of Rye.

After the ceremony, participants and those in attendance take time to savor the feelings of community and thanksgiving.  They enjoy the refreshments provided by the Rye Historical Society and cannot help but observe the preponderance of those gravesites decorated with flags and flowers. The Veterans revisit the memories of pride and pain which are especially strong on Memorial Day.

(James Cullen of Rye, the writer of this article, is commander of the Seacoast Memorial VFW Post #8942.  He also is organizer  and master of ceremonies for the annual event.)

Photo credit: Judy Underwood

May, 2007