A color guard participated in a small Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning at Grove Cemetery in Belfast that was organized by the Randall Collins Veterans of Foreign Wars post.  Credit: Abigail Curtis

BELFAST, Maine — The weather was cloudy and the crowd was small Monday morning for an abbreviated Memorial Day ceremony at Grove Cemetery in Belfast.

But it was no less meaningful to the people who did come to pay their respects to the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. They watched World War II veteran Carmine Pecorelli lay a wreath on a World War I memorial, listened to a rifle salute and heard the somber notes of taps reverberate around the verdant, flag-bedecked graveyard.

“This Memorial Day, we come together to honor the many sacrifices made for our freedom,” Anthony Kimball, the commander of the Randall Collins Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Belfast, said. “We must live the America they died for. A country of freedom, equality, opportunity and promise … they gave up their todays for our tomorrows.”

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Maine has a strong history of its citizens joining the military, and with more than 114,000 veterans, the state has nearly double the national percentage of people who have served. A lot of Mainers who joined the military never came home, including those who fought in the Civil War, with about a quarter of the 73,000 Mainers who joined the Union side dying. In World War II, more than 2,000 Mainers died. The casualties continued through every major engagement, including the ongoing War on Terror.

This year, the usual large gathering at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, was canceled due to the pandemic, which has led to the deaths of nearly 100,000 Americans. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump paid tribute to fallen soldiers by participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the national cemetery. The president also spoke at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore.

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In Maine, parades and other large events were not held this year. Tammy Sweetland, part of Maine Chapter 5 of the Patriot Guard, missed riding her motorcycle during the parade in Belfast. Still, she was happy to be present for the smaller event.

“It’s still important to show recognition for those who have given their lives for us,” she said.

Bill Bruns of Belfast, a member of the Maine Air National Guard, said he appreciates that feeling.

“On Friday, we laid the flags out, and so many people came to help,” he said. “The patriotism hasn’t gone away. The love for our country hasn’t gone away.”