Veteran, state Rep. John Velis tells Agawam Memorial Day gathering: ‘Live a life worthy of their sacrifice’
AGAWAM — Memorial Day observances Monday at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery had state Rep. John C. Velis recalling words painted on a wall in Afghanistan.
It was a message he saw as he was leaving to come home from his first of two deployments as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
"Live a life worthy of their sacrifice," Velis said. "That's what the mural said. Because not everybody is coming home."
Velis, D-Westfield, is now a major in the Reserve serving in the judge advocate general corps out of Fort Devens.
In his short remarks he also briefly described a battle in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of six, including three Americans. He escorted the body of one Army specialist to the honor flight, the helicopter that would begin the fallen specialist’s final journey home.
The battle was still going on, Velis said. The dead soldier's blood was still fresh.
“How the hell do you thank someone who laid down a sacrifice so great?” Velis said.
The answer is to keep ever mindful of that sacrifice and serve the needs of the servicemen and women who are still with us.
"We honor them by honoring their brothers, their battle buddies, who still serve," Velis said.
He was joined at Monday’s ceremony by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; state Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield; mayors Domenic J. Sarno of Springfield and William P. Sapelli of Agawam; and Francisco A. Ureña, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Services and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Ureña, whose department oversees the cemetery, spoke of how Massachusetts communities gather in support of veterans. He spoke of how people lined the streets of South Deerfield earlier this month as the body of 23-year-old Navy nurse Meaghan Burns was brought home.
Burns, who was about to end her enlistment, was shot and killed in Virginia along with a Navy colleague. The shooter, 22-year-old Donavon Moora, a Navy corpsman stationed at Field Medical Training Battalion East in Jacksonville, North Carolina, died by suicide.
Ureña also spoke of going to meet the body of fallen Marine Thomas J. Sullivan, 40, of Springfield, at Bradley International Airport in 2015. Sullivan was shot and killed while training with Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by a man who had sympathies with Islamic terrorism.
The secretary also drew attention to the work veterans do every day in service offices across the state helping their fellow vets access benefits and improve their lives.
The ceremony drew hundreds of onlookers. There were also scores of people out in the cemetery visiting graves and placing flowers among the orderly ranks of gravestones.
The ceremony even featured an unplanned visit by a bald eagle. The majestic bird circled high over the crowd for a few minutes as Polito spoke.
"That was really great," she said, pausing as the crowd looked up and out toward the Connecticut River.
Neal reminded the crowd that Memorial Day has its origins in the America’s darkest time, the Civil War, and that we celebrate this Memorial Day in the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.
Art Franklin of Springfield was in the crowd. Franklin, 72, was in the Army in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, serving from a base called Camp Carroll about 12 or 15 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone and near the base at Khe Sanh.
“I lost a lot of friends there,” he said. “This is my time to remember them.”