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This Memorial Day, veterans won’t come to Bangor — or any community — to march in a parade. Clapping spectators won’t line the streets to cheer them on. Thousands of people won’t gather at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, to honor the nation’s war dead.
Those American traditions are the latest victims of a world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the spirit of the day, its original purpose, does not need to be something else that’s lost amid the hardships of this year. That’s the message from Mainers who are finding other ways than parades to celebrate and remember.
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Just ask Carmine Pecorelli, a 94-year-old veteran from Belfast who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and in the Army Reserves for 25 years after that. Pecorelli is chatty, vigorous and enjoys a parade. But on Saturday, he went to Grove Cemetery in Belfast and did what he always does: he remembered Bernie Braverman, a schoolmate and friend who grew up with him in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Braverman was a tailgunner in the war. He did not come home.
“We were very close,” Pecorelli said. “I never saw him once the war started.”
Memorial Day was first observed in the late 1860s, as Americans in lots of communities began holding tributes to the soldiers who died during the Civil War. Even before the war ended, the lost veterans were remembered. In Bangor, the Soldiers’ Monument at Mount Hope Cemetery was dedicated on June 17, 1864 to the city’s soldiers and sailors who died while serving with Union forces. At first, the springtime remembrance was called Decoration Day, only later coming to be known as Memorial Day.
Although the large, well-loved events cannot happen this year, families, Boy Scout troops, veterans groups and others are sprucing up cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on graves.
“We made sure we got the flags out on the cemetery,” Brian Knowlton, the commander of the Connnor-Trafton American Legion Post in Guilford, said. “But this will be the first time in 19 years we won’t have a parade to march in.”
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Some events — scaled down and socially distanced — are happening here and there around the state on Memorial Day. In Pittsfield, Col. Mike Wyly will lay a wreath on the War Memorial in the center of town at 11:30 a.m. and at noon, groups of volunteers will raise all the flags in the community from half-mast to the top of the mast. In Belfast, officials from the Randall Collins Veterans of Foreign Wars post will return to Grove Cemetery at 10 a.m., when a smaller color guard and rifle detail than usual will give the 21-gun salute, with bugler and post operations manager Jim Roberts playing taps.
The simple, somber tune may be heard in more unusual places around the state, thanks to a “Taps Across America” movement. This asks anyone who can sound taps on a trumpet, bugle or other, similar instrument to stand on their own doorsteps and play it at 3 p.m. on Monday.
Monique Bouchard of Old Town spent part of the day on Sunday digging out her trombone from the barn attic and working up her taps-playing chops. It’s been 20 years, give or take, since she last played that instrument, but this seemed like the right time to try it again.
“What a beautiful sense of community, to think of many people gathering at this one hour,” she said. “Even if it’s just in contemplation, and you’re not playing anything except what’s in your heart. It’s a solid way to spend a chunk of your Monday, at a time when a lot of our rituals have changed.”
Pecorelli, still a dedicated volunteer and the proud grandfather of 11, has had a full life. Decades have passed since his days as a young enlisted sailor serving in World War II and even from his years as a first sergeant in the Army Reserves.
But he hasn’t forgotten his brothers-at-arms and his gratitude to those who gave up their lives for their country and their friends. Memorial Day brings it home, and when taps is played, he expects to shed a tear or two.
“How do you explain that type of love? It’s in the Bible,” he said. “No man has greater love than he who lays his life down for a friend.”
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?