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Memorial Day ceremony long a tradition in Northampton

  • Air Force Tech Sgt. Francis Robles of Southampton, left, and T5 Corporal Francis Whalen of Florence stand Monday as part of the Color Guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Air Force Tech Sgt. Francis Robles of Southampton, left, and T5 Corporal Francis Whalen of Florence stand Monday as part of the Color Guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • The color guard stands Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    The color guard stands Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Councilor Eugene A. Tacy speaks Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Councilor Eugene A. Tacy speaks Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sandra and William Hubbard of Florence place hands over hearts Monday during the closing prayers of the Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence. Sandra Hubbard's late father, Walter Steins of Huntington, was a WWII veteran.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Sandra and William Hubbard of Florence place hands over hearts Monday during the closing prayers of the Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence. Sandra Hubbard's late father, Walter Steins of Huntington, was a WWII veteran.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ladies Auxiliary VFW Post 8006 members Kathleen Lafountain, left, Ethel Estes, Susan Glidden, Sherry Grabon and Josie Winkler stand Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ladies Auxiliary VFW Post 8006 members Kathleen Lafountain, left, Ethel Estes, Susan Glidden, Sherry Grabon and Josie Winkler stand Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Air Force Tech Sgt. Francis Robles of Southampton, left, and T5 Corporal Francis Whalen of Florence stand Monday as part of the Color Guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • The color guard stands Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Councilor Eugene A. Tacy speaks Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Sandra and William Hubbard of Florence place hands over hearts Monday during the closing prayers of the Memorial Day ceremony at Park Street Cemetery in Florence. Sandra Hubbard's late father, Walter Steins of Huntington, was a WWII veteran.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ladies Auxiliary VFW Post 8006 members Kathleen Lafountain, left, Ethel Estes, Susan Glidden, Sherry Grabon and Josie Winkler stand Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Park St. Cemetery in Florence.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

At the age of 99, Blondin said she has not missed a single Northampton Memorial Day parade in over 90 years, even after she moved from her house on Corticelli Street in Florence to the Rockridge Retirement Center in Northampton.

“The street hasn’t changed, but the people have. The parade’s gotten bigger. It used to be much smaller,” said Blondin, recollecting nearly a century’s worth of parade-watching experience. “When we were kids we used to get in our truck and go to the cemetery to put flowers on the soldiers’ graves. It was always a big day for us.”

Blondin and a number of other residents watched from the corner of Meadow and Park streets in Florence as the annual procession passed by with horns honking, music blaring and the firing of muskets to honor the country’s veterans on Monday.

Contingents in this year’s parade included the Soldier On organization, Cub Scout Packs 103 and 109, the JFK Keys a cappella group, the Northampton Recreation Department and the Expandable Brass Band.

Among those watching was South Hadley resident Anna Wood. Her husband, Fred Wood, 86, rode in the parade with the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department while her stepdaughter marched with the Pioneer Valley chapter of the Red Cross.

“We always come. He’s been doing it for about 30 or 40 years, since around the time Sheriff Boyle was still around. He’s always been with the Hampshire Sheriff’s Department, even when we lived in Franklin County,” Wood said. “I worked at the veterans’ hospital for years, so it’s a day that’s really close to my heart. I used to see a lot of the vets, and I’ve been retired for two years but I still recognize a few of them.”

After the parade had completed its route, it continued on into the Park Street Cemetery, where the city’s Memorial Day service was held. The ceremony included speeches by members of the Veterans Council of Northampton and some of the city’s elected officials, including Mayor David J. Narkewicz and City Councilor Eugene Tacy, who delivered the keynote address.

“Today we celebrate Memorial Day, that one day in the springtime of the year when we ask the citizens to put aside their cares and concerns and to celebrate and remember the nation’s honored dead, the veteran,” said Veterans Council president Brad LeVay, a U.S. Marine and Korean War veteran. “As a veteran, I do not need a special day. I will never forget and I will always remember the loss of so many fine men and women who served our nation so well.”

Tacy noted in his address that the city of Northampton has the longest-running annual Memorial Day parade in the nation, dating back to the late 1800s, outlasting even the national parade, which was stopped in 1943 and not held again until 2004.

“This community has never taken a nonchalant attitude in its observance of the day. It is not just a long weekend for Northampton. It is a robust spirit that is alive and well,” Tacy said.

He also spoke about the history of the holiday, from its first observance in the wake of the Civil War — when it was known as Decoration Day — to the modern celebration seen today.

“That day in history has made this day about coming together, to remember to reflect, to honor those brave men and women in wars, conflicts and situations who have gave it all and made the ultimate sacrifice for our liberty and our freedom,” he said.

Following Tacy’s speech, the ceremony featured the reading of the names of the 56 deceased veterans from the past year, followed by a rifle and cannon salute.

Southampton on parade

The streets around Southampton center were lined with onlookers as the town’s annual parade made its way from the William E. Norris School to the Southampton Center Cemetery, where a small ceremony was held.

The parade included contingents from Brownie Troop 11062, Cub Scout Pack 4210, veterans driving antiques cars, and town fire and police personnel.

Southampton resident Sarah Scoble and her two daughters, Elizabeth, 9, and Grace, 2, watched from the sidewalk in front of the post office as the procession slowly made its way through the center of town.

“It’s just a great way to honor the people that serve to keep our country free and safe,” said Scoble, who has attended the parade for the last 17 years. “It’s a good way for our kids to learn to honor our service people.”

Scott LaBrie, a 17-year-old Southampton resident and senior at Hampshire Regional High School, took a short break from laying mulch around the post office with a landscaping crew to watch the parade pass by as well.

“I used to come watch it all the time when I was a kid, and it’s nice to see it now that I’m older,” he said. “It’s a big deal at the Norris School — all the kids get to walk from the school to the cemetery and they talk a lot about it in the school.”

First-time Southampton parade attendee Melanie Rubeck looked on with her 9-year-old daughter, Maggie, as the parade turned through the center of town, waiting to catch a glimpse of her two teenage children, Lilly and Jordan, who marched with the Hampshire Regional High School band.

At the cemetery, Southampton residents Robert and Ilse Godfrey stood with their grandson Aidan, 6, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

“It’s a time when we stop and think about the sacrifices being made to allow us to live here in this country in the way we do,” Ilse Godfrey said.

“It’s a nice way to help young ones understand that it’s not just a day off or a cookout,” said her husband.

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