The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 2, 2006


A town in New England remembers war dead

Ed. Note: Bill Kovach lived on East Street for several years during the early 1970s. He is currently the founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. The following was read by Selectman Doug Stevenson at the Memorial Day service last Monday. The article was reprinted by permission in the Mosquito of May 29, 1992.

The bright morning sun and laughing children played over the Town Green here today, resisting with sound and color the solemn dignity of memorial Day ceremonies for the war dead.

The waving flags, the golden green of the common -- brightened by gleaming white walls of the Congregational and Unitarian churches-- all combined with the excitement of a parade to urge celebration.

But there were moments throughout the morning when the nature of the day was felt. In front of a World War II honor roll, the parade marshal called out the names of Carlisle men and women who had served in that war, barking the names of those who survived, calling out those who died in a near whisper.

For an hour, the townspeople, led by a color guard, the school band, a company of colonial militiamen, Cub Scouts and Brownie Scouts, paraded to its memorials to past wars. At each stop a wreath was laid, a salute fired and a prayer said in memory of those from Carlisle-- beginning with the 16 who fought at North Bridge in Concord -- who served in war.

Reading from a worn, much-folded piece of paper, the parade marshal called off the names of those who had served since the last honor roll (for World War II) was erected.

"Lest we forget"

"I'm sorry if I've missed the names of any," he said at the end. "If I have, if you'll send me your names on a postcard, we'll include them next year -- lest we forget."

Carlisle, lying at the apex of a rough triangle that it forms with Concord and Lexington, is a small residential community of 3,000 people that has been largely untouched by the drawn-out war in Vietnam.

Nancy Penhune (introduced to the schoolhouse audience as "the first woman, in the long history of Carlisle, to serve on the Board of Selectmen") recalled past Memorial Days:

"I come from one of those families which sent all its men to war. I lost my father, two uncles, a cousin and four close neighbors in World War II, and I remember Memorial Day as the rejuvenation of grief, and the pall it cast lingered through June.

"Today," she continued, "the men fighting are unknown to us -- especially to us in suburban towns where few of our sons have gone this time. It somehow allows us to remain detached from it. The majority of enlisted men today don't come from places like Carlisle or the other suburban towns — they come from the core urban areas."

Long link with the past

Seventy-seven year old Oscar E. Pedersen said, "These ceremonies mean a lot to me. I can remember a day like this one 54 years ago when I took a detail of 32 men to put 1,000 flags on the graves of our buddies."

Mr. Pedersen, chairman of Memorial Day activities in Carlisle for the last 40 years, represents the community spirit and dedication to history that marks many New England towns.

He remembers when Civil War veterans, "drummer boys in the war," would sit on their porches and play for the parade, or when all the schoolchildren were given plants to set in the Center Cemetery where Revolutionary War soldiers are buried. "It's a lot different now," he said today. "An awful lot of the people go away for the weekend on Memorial Day, and there aren't so many here for the ceremonies."

Dressed in an American Legion uniform, wearing medals with frayed ribbons marking his service in the battles of Chateau-Thierry, Argonne and Verdun, Mr. Pedersen led the Memorial Day procession along its line of march.

Standing still and straight, his white-gloved hands in salute, he was the focal point of the ceremonies at each memorial.

At the first service, before the World War II honor roll, the National Guard honor guard (obviously not overly trained) had to be briefed on how to fire a rifle salute. Of those in uniform, only Mr. Pedersen held his salute until taps and its echo were completed.

"I wonder what's going to happen to ceremonies like this when guys like him aren't around any more?" one observer asked of a friend. "There aren't many young men who bother with these any more, are there?"

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito