GARDINER — Every year, Terrence Casey makes it a point to attend Memorial Day events.

Monday was no different.

Despite the cloudy skies and the cool temperatures, Casey and his wife crossed the Kennebec River from their home in Randolph to be among the 400 or so people taking part in the ceremony on the Gardiner Common.

They waited while the groups marching in Gardiner’s annual Memorial Day parade reached the Gardiner Common and speakers gathered at the bandstand for their brief comments.

Casey, now 84, is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who served during the era of the Korean and Vietnam wars. He believes that honoring the veterans, especially those who served of the World War II, is important.

“If it were not for them, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

In popular culture, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to the summer season.

But in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States, people set aside the last Monday in May for remembering those who died while serving in the U.S. military.

While Memorial Day became a federal holiday and was designated as the last Monday in May only in 1971, some form of remembrance for those who died in military service dates back to the years following the Civil War.

In Gardiner on Monday, it was a day to wave to the World War II veterans like Donald Pushard, the parade’s grand marshal, Ken Baker and others who rode in the parade, and to see friends and neighbors march, walk and amble along the mile-long parade route between the former Gardiner Armory and the Gardiner Common.

In the hour before the 10 a.m., start, people started assembling on Brunswick Avenue to set up chairs on lawns and porches, and sidewalks and in the beds of pickup trucks to get the best view.

Spectators waved and called to friends and neighbors marching with the American Legion Smith-Wiley Post 4 and Auxiliary, the Marine Corps League and the Knights of Columbus, among others. They listened to the Gardiner Area High School Marching Band and the Hallowell Community Band, which played military-themed music. Children picked up the sweets tossed by area scouting packs and troops who marched behind banners and they implored the drivers of the contingent of fire trucks from area fire departments to hit their sirens or honk their horns.

At the close of the parade, people gathered in the Common, where Gardiner’s war memorials stand, to hear Brig. Gen. Dwaine Drummond, who grew up in Randolph and spent his childhood in and around the Gardiner area, give a brief address.

“You’ve heard the origins of Memorial Day many times, how it was first called Decoration Day when it was our nation’s formal day to recognize the fallen soldiers and decorate their graves with flowers,” he said.

“Over time, the decoration of graves has expanded to those with family long gone and not so long gone. Some feel expanding the meaning to our family and friends somehow detracts from the meaning of Memorial Day,” Drummond said. “While I understand that sentiment, I am not conflicted as a soldier, because of the sacrifices our nation has endured since the shouts of ‘Hell, no, George!’ rang out across the colonies. It is not only the sacrifice of the military, but it is the sacrifice of families, of cities and towns and those who love us. After all, the United States of America is nothing if not built of the bonds of brothers and sisters and neighbors.”

Drummond said Memorial Day is important because those who sacrificed in dedication can’t speak for themselves — not only the men and women in the military, but those who worked at home to lay the groundwork of freedom Americans enjoy today.

“It’s up to us, like those before us, to keep the flame burning and keep their stories and sacrifice alive and relevant,” he said.

“Today, let’s set aside the politics that divide us and let us remember that those things we cherish the most would not be without the sacrifice of others. And let’s remember that we are the voices of those who would not grow old. Because of their love for us and their love for this country, we can stand proud and free like no other nation on this Earth.

“To be an American comes at a cost. We must always remember the debt we owe to those who have paid the highest price. We must never forget,” he said.

Casey, who served in the U.S. Air Force force from 1951 to 1971 and retired as a technical sergeant, said he doesn’t know if people focus on the contributions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in the Second World War.

He spoke briefly with two of the World War II veterans and thanked them for their service, he said before wreaths were laid at the war memorials.

“It’s an honor for me to be here and recognize them,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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