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Vermont National Guard honors fallen soldiers during Memorial Day ceremony

The Vermont National Guard held its annual Memorial Day ceremony Thursday afternoon at its Fallen Heroes Memorial. The sunny, windy day brought Gold Star families together with active service members and state leaders to honor those who have died in service to the state and country.

“I wish people would be thinking more of the veterans and what they’ve sacrificed and what they’ve given to their country instead of just blowing it off like it’s a day off, it’s a party. I wish they could see what it means to veterans to be thanked and to be honored.”

Karen Sheehan is a Gold Star Sister. Her brother died in Iraq in 2004, 19 years to the day of the Vermont Guard’s memorial ceremony. Sheehan says the grief may change, but it never diminishes.

“Some days are good. Sometimes a song will set you off. Sometimes a memory will make you smile,” Sheehan said. “Watching his two kids grow has really put it in perspective that you have to make his memory alive for his kids. You know his daughter just graduated from college last week and she flipped her robe and she had a picture of her and her dad. I mean she was only two-and-a-half when he left and that’s one of the last pictures she has of him and her together. That brought tears and sometimes I’m just plan darn angry that he died. But he’s missed so much.”

Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Adjutant General Gregory Knight laid a wreath at the base of the Vermont National Guard’s Fallen Heroes memorial as Major Gene Enriquez explained the significance of the circular wreath.

“Wreaths are commonly used during Memorial Day celebrations. It is the circular shape of the wreath that symbolizes eternity and immortality. In honor of our fallen heroes and out of respect for their families we ask that you stand in silence while the wreath is being placed,” Major Enriquez said. “At this time please join us in a moment of silence in remembrance of our fallen Vermont National Guard heroes. Please be seated.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also spoke at the ceremony.

“As we walk right here and we see on the plaques behind us the names of young people who never had the opportunity to come home,” Sanders said. “They sacrificed their lives for all of us. The greatest sacrifice that one can make is to say I’m willing to give my life for others, for our country. Memorial Day is a day of not forgetting, of remembering these sacrifices. And if we are also willing to commit ourselves, all of us, in whatever way to make this country a better place in which to live, in that way we will have honored the sacrifices made by those who died for this country.”

Again, Major Gene Enriquez.

“In 1915 during a terrible 17-day battle in Ypres, Belgium a Canadian surgeon by the name of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’” Enriquez said. “It was based on his experience during those 17 days, his view of poppies from a nearby cemetery. Miss Moina Michael came across Colonel McCrae’s poem in 1918 and she was so moved she penned ‘We Shall keep the Faith’ in response. Here to read these poems today are Captain Madeleine Blaney of the Vermont Army National Guard and Staff Sargent Bradley Smith of the Vermont Air National Guard.”

“We are the dead,” reads Captain Blaney. “Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved and now we lie In Flanders Fields. The torch be yours to hold it high.”

“Oh you who sleep in Flanders Fields,” reads Sargent Smith, “We caught the torch you threw and holding high we keep the faith with all who died. Fear not that ye have died for naught.

We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought in Flanders Fields.”

Following the ceremony, Gold Star Families placed yellow roses by plaques honoring their fallen loved ones.

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