WAYNE — July will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. By the time it was over, this town had sent 24 men to fight overseas, with all but two returning.

The town gathered Monday to remember those men and others from the community who died in battle or after returning home when the fighting was over.

“Today is a day to honor and reflect how lucky we are as a nation that is free thanks to the sacrifices by members of the American Military,” said Army Lt. Col. Douglas Farris (Ret.) to the crowd that gathered at Roderick Memorial Park for the Memorial Day ceremony. “Mainers, especially people from Wayne, I believe, thoroughly understand this.”

A few hundred people turned out for events that included a parade down Main Street and a wreath-laying ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park on the shore of Pocasset Lake. Priscilla Stevenson, whose brother, Army Capt. Joseph Ford Berry, was killed while fighting in Sicily in 1943, was the honorary wreath holder. Berry’s is one of five names listed on the memorial stone at the park, which also includes World War II casualties George E. Dodge and Paul W. Manter and World War I casualties Benjamin P. Bradford and Leland Gordon.

The ceremony then moved to Roderick Memorial Park on the Mill Pond where solemn events included the singing of the National Anthem and the reading of names of Wayne war veterans who died during the year past and the 24 names of Wayne men who fought in World War I. The ceremony concluded with a wreath tossed into Mill Pond.

Farris, who during his keynote address touched on the history of the U.S. flag, his own military experience and the significance of Memorial Day, said Maine residents understand that the day is more than the unofficial start of summer.

“Memorial Day is a somber event, but it needs to be celebrated,” Farris said. “The United States has a secular civil religion, one with no association with any religious denomination, skin color or creed, that in itself has incorporated Memorial Day as a sacred event. Death, sacrifice and rebirth enter the civil religion, and Memorial Day gives ritual expression, or a sacred rite, to these themes, integrating the local community into a sense of nationalism.”

Berry’s grand-nephew, Joseph Ford Stevenson, read a letter composed by Berry’s son, Joseph Ford Murray, who lives in Hawaii. Murray commended the five Wayne men who died in combat.

“What if these five men could return for but a moment?” Joseph Ford Stevenson read. “What would they think of Wayne, and for that matter, the America they would see today?”

Murray wrote that the men would be amazed by advances in communication and transportation. They may wonder at the physical changes of their community.

“They would be pleased, though, by the gathering here and across America today, and the respect and reflection paid to their efforts and supreme sacrifice,” Murray wrote. “We and coming generations owe those men a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid. And in the spirit of today’s commemoration, let us never, ever forget that with privilege goes responsibility.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642 | ccrosby@centralmaine.com | Twitter: @CraigCrosby4