Editorial: Monday mix on Memorial Day; Medal of Honor; library bird feeders

  • President Donald Trump awards the Medal of Honor to Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski, who grew up in Northampton, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday. AP FILE PHOTO

Monday, May 28, 2018

This is a Memorial Day spectacle not to be missed in Florence. The nation’s longest continuously run parade on the holiday will celebrate its 150th anniversary when it leaves Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School on Locust Street at 1 p.m. Monday.

While it is always an impressive mix of veterans, youth groups, bands and floats, this year’s parade is expected to be the largest ever with some 1,500 participants, as well as a longer route. It will pass through downtown Florence and proceed on Park, Pine and Spring streets to Elks Lodge #997.

A flyover of jets from the 104th Fighter Wing based at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield is scheduled for about 1:30 p.m.

A remembrance ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. at the Park Street Cemetery in Florence, with Girl Scouts decorating graves of veterans with flowers. That continues a tradition that began in 1868 along with the first parade on what was then known as Decoration Day.

The grand marshal of this year’s parade is 96-year-old Edward “Red” Morrissey, who has lived in Florence his entire life, served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946 and was a Northampton police officer for 25½ years. Following this year’s parade, there will be a ceremony at the Elks Lodge, with the keynote speech by Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, of Florence, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard.

Bradley LeVay, president of the Veterans Council of Northampton, has been involved with the Memorial Day Parade for the past six decades, since he returned home with a Purple Heart earned while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He says, “It is a very somber day for me … it is remembering those that never came home.”

The Veterans Council urges residents to appreciate “the grandeur of the 150th anniversary of our parade and to reflect on what those young men and women fought and died for. And we ask you to do everything you can to support veterans today and every day.”

Those who served deserve that honor.

* * *

Congratulations to Britt K. Slabinski, the Northampton native and retired U.S. Navy SEAL who was awarded a Medal of Honor on Thursday by President Donald Trump.

Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Slabinski earned the nation’s top honor for battlefield bravery because he risked his life while leading a reconnaissance team up a snow-covered, 10,000-foot mountain in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, to rescue a comrade who had fallen from their helicopter when it crashed after being hit by rocket-propelled grenades fired by al-Qaida forces.

“The odds were not good. They were not in their favor, but Britt and his team didn’t even hesitate for a moment,” Trump said. “Today we induct a new name into the world’s most exclusive gathering of heroes, and that’s exactly what it is.”

Slabinski, who graduated from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in 1988, became an Eagle Scout four years earlier at age 14 while a member of Troop 109. He told the Gazette then that he hoped to join the SEALs after high school.

After Thursday’s White House ceremony, Slabinski deflected recognition for his valor, saying that the medal belonged to his teammates “who followed me without hesitation” and the seven Americans who died on the mountaintop. “They gave all for us. This honor is truly theirs. They are the true heroes.”

* * *

We commend Adam Novitt, director of the Lilly Library in Florence, for using the natural world to expand its resources.

After a trip to a birding resort in Tobago, Novitt installed five bird feeders outside the library’s second-floor windows that attract, among others, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, starlings and hummingbirds. Patrons get an up-close view of the birds and learn more about them from books kept near the windows.

The feeders were donated by Hadley Garden Center, Florence Hardware and Backyard Birds, and Novitt figures it will cost between $600 and $1,000 a year to maintain them. Citing that cost, Novitt says, “I like to think we are democratizing bird feeding.” He also plans to start birding classes at the library.

This is a terrific way to keep people — and birds — coming back to the library.