Hatfield remembers the fallen

Town remembers the fallen on Memorial Day

  • 8-year-old RJ Kaczenski rides on a tractor driven by his father Justin Kaczenski while pulling a wagon full of members of the 4-H Clovers of all Trades club during a Memorial Day parade Sunday in Hatfield.

  • Members of the Smith Academy Marching Band perform during a Memorial Day parade Sunday in Hatfield.

  • Members of the Color Guard march down Main Street during a Memorial Day parade Sunday in Hatfield.

  • 8-year-old RJ Kaczenski rides on a tractor down Main Street driven by his father Justin Kaczenski during a Memorial Day parade Sunday in Hatfield.

  • Members of the Hatfield American Legion Post 344 Firing Squad fire a volley during Memorial Day program Sunday in Hatfield.

@DHGCrosby
Published: 5/30/2016 12:06:42 AM

HATFIELD — The unmistakable rat-a-tat of the drums sliced through a muggy Sunday afternoon as residents clad in red, white and blue took to the streets.

Hatfield’s Memorial Day parade departed from American Legion Post 344 shortly after noon, winding past agricultural fields and quiet town homes.

Representing the post, Patricia Douglas of Hatfield proudly marched past nearly 300 parade spectators. At 81 years old, this year marked her 61st walk in the parade.

“I have to walk for the fallen, the gone, the heroes,” she said, holding back tears as a few escaped and rolled down her cheek. “The ones that bring tears to your eyes,” she added.

Douglas served five years in the Air Force, working as a nurse in the orthopedic ward of a hospital at California’s Travis Air Force Base. She said the troops who came into the hospital were not in good condition.

“I think about them every Memorial Day,” she said. Joined by her 83-year-old brother Kenneth Balise, who served in the Army, and her 76-year-old brother George Balise, who served in the Navy, she said they were “walking for the heroes who don’t get to be here.”

The longtime Hatfield resident, who later worked 28 years as a nurse for the Veterans Administration in Northampton, plans to march as long as her body will allow.

“Until the kids see all of us out here, Memorial Day is not going to mean anything,” she said.

For 7-year-old Molly O’Brien, the holiday was both exciting and somber.

“It’s really sad because soldiers had to die,” she said, adding that she always thinks about her late grandfather William O’Brien, who served in the Marine Corps during World War II. “(Memorial Day) means a really important thing.”

A large sea of purple took up the front of the procession, as Hatfield School Band members provided patriotic accompaniment. Town police and fire departments, American Legion Post 344’s marching members, motorcycle contingent and color guard, and Select Board members were among groups represented during the event.

True to Hatfield’s rich farming background, a tractor towing a wagon filled with children from 4-H Clovers of All Trades club took up the back of the parade.

Tom LaBombard waved to the passers-by as he grilled burgers and chicken at the Main Street house he shares with partner Dale Faucett and their family.

“Come by and get some (food) after,” he called out, adding that their location was the “best view in town.”

While Faucett said that Memorial Day serves as the “unofficial start of summer,” she added that it was important to “keep the holiday in the way which it was intended.”

The crowd did just that, gathering at Smith Academy Park adjacent to the Town Hall for a ceremony following the parade.

As the Pledge of Allegiance was read, 6-year-old Ryder Pelis of Hatfield confidently spoke every word in unison. His mother, Heather, proudly smiled.

A standing ovation was given to two World War II veterans in the crowd — Coast Guard veteran Bob Belado, 90, of Amherst, and Navy veteran Theodore Picard, 96, of Hatfield.

Four names of Hatfield veterans who died over the last year were also publicly acknowledged — Joseph Zembiski, Albin Karpinski, Alexander Ciszewski and John Rankin.

“He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat,” sang Lynn-Ann Parsons as she performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” accompanied by Michael Parsons.

Smith Academy student Molly Kokoski read a portion of Patrick Henry’s speech, concluding with the famous words, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

Fellow student Madison Zigmont quoted “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

In concluding the ceremony, Michael J. Carey, Vietnam veteran and register of the Hampshire Probate and Family Court, emphasized the high cost of freedom.

“Today, we show our appreciation for their willingness to put themselves at risk and to pay the ultimate price,” he said.

Carey said the meaning of the day is “lodged deep in our consciousness,” and for him it’s the “face and voice” of his childhood friend Donald Ashton of Easthampton, an Army corporal who was delivered home from the Pleiku Province in South Vietnam at the age of 19.

“I think of how much he missed out on,” Carey said. He added that nearly 7,000 servicemen and women have answered “the final call for their country” since the graduating seniors at Smith Academy were beginning their kindergarten year.

That’s why Douglas makes the one-mile commemorative walk each year, despite her age. She said her health, and the health of her brothers is not good, but they will continue to turn down a ride.

Her daughter Janet Casey, also of Hatfield, said “come Memorial Day, they don’t care what I say. They’re just determined to march.”

And march they did, even as George Balise began to collapse during the walk and was helped to a seat.

Patricia Douglas said she also considers how much the fallen troops have missed.

“I hope some day wars don’t take humans,” she said, wiping away another tear.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.


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