Merrimack Memorial Day Parade draws throngs of spectators and veterans

errimack’s Memorial Day Parade, held May 26, brought together hundreds of residents, visitors and veterans of many wars. They witnessed the marching of an honor guard and a color guard that set the tone of respect and admiration for all who have served the nation.

Dozens of representatives from the VFW Post 8641, based at 282 Daniel Webster Highway, and the American Legion Post 98, headquartered at 43 Baboosic Lake Road, were on hand to lead the parade, to pay homage at memorials along the way and to later remember the fallen at Last Rest Cemetery, a town landmark established in the early 1800s. The cemetery shelters the remains of many military personnel, including a Civil War veteran, James S. Thornton, who was the great-grandson of Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The American Legion Riders, a group of patriotic motorcyclists based at Post 98, drew cheers. They rode in the parade on Harleys and Hondas, for it mattered little what make or model one owned. All that was of concern was the honoring of the day’s guests of honor, America’s veterans, present and past. Ronald Gunn, a Navy veteran of more than 20 years who served in Korea and Vietnam, was among those riding a motorcycle. He sat high in the saddle as the rolling convoy made its way to the graveyard.

State and local dignitaries from both posts spoke at the event, witnessed by families whose children were festooned in ensembles of red, white, blue or various combinations of stars and stripes. The applause along the parade route, which began at RiteAid Plaza on Daniel Webster Highway and terminated at the Last Rest Cemetery, surely was musical to the veterans marching along.

Troops of Scouts, the marching band from Merrimack High School and representatives of the Merrimack Fire & Rescue Department and the Merrimack police made the event additionally colorful. Peter Duffy and his wife, Diane, watched the parade with their children, Tara, 14, Kiera, 8, and Brendan, 12. The family proudly noted that Diane’s father, Joseph DeStefano, served in the Pacific in World War II. Kiera held an American Flag high and waved it as the parade passed.

Theresa Anderson, of Merrimack, brought her children, Jack, 3, and Lilly, 7. She said they have no family members currently serving in the military but that they all had good reason to be at the parade.

“It’s important to be here and cheer and clap on Memorial Day,” Theresa said. “We’re doing our part to honor all of our veterans.”

One who spoke at Last Rest Cemetery was Navy veteran Jason Wheeler. The wounded warrior sat in a wheelchair. An attentive service dog nuzzled Wheeler’s arm, site of a black tattoo with white lettering honoring POW-MIAs. Wheeler wore sunglasses that did little to hide his emotions. His plea was for increased support for wounded veterans and those facing the ongoing physical pain and mental depression that he said has resulted in many suicides among service members he knew and cherished. A long line of admirers, one by one, leaned down to him and embraced him upon the closing of the ceremony.

Veteran Joseph F. McBreen, 89, a longtime Merrimack resident recently moved to Bedford, sat in a folding chair to watch the parade and the memorials at Last Rest. He is a World War II veteran who said he spent 39 years with the government, working in the Reserves after the war.

“I was attached to General Patton,” McBreen said. “I worked with enemy equipment identification – mines and booby traps, those types of things. I’ve only missed a few parades in all the years. I wasn’t about to miss another.”

For more information on the Merrimack Memorial Day Parade, call the VFW at 424-7719 or the American Legion at 429-0343.