SKOWHEGAN — Derek DeFelice encouraged families to enjoy being together on Memorial Day — while also asking them to remember those who made it possible.

DeFelice, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart, spoke to more than 100 veterans, town and state officials, families and friends who turned out Monday for a Memorial Day ceremony following a parade through the downtown.

Memorial Day parade grand marshal Derek DeFelice hugs Rev. Mark Tanner following comments Monday during a ceremony at Veterans Park in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

DeFelice, 34, of Oakland, noted that people often say “don’t just barbecue” on Memorial Day and that “it isn’t just a day off,” but he recalled many days and nights in the desert with fellow soldiers, dreaming about such a barbecue and enjoying a 16-ounce rib eye steak and cold beer.

“We would talk about barbecuing with friends and family,” he said. “These are things we would talk about to pass the time or to try and convince us that the (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) tasted like a steak, which few will understand — that after many months in the desert, that MRE starts to taste like a juicy steak.”

On Memorial Day, those who died serving the country would want Americans to enjoy a barbecue with family, DeFelice said, adding that, when doing so, they should relax and enjoy their freedom.

“But I ask you this: Please don’t forget why you get it,” he said. “This is why we, the many, gather here to honor our veterans — the few who were so willing to give of themselves to defend their brothers and sisters and their country.”

DeFelice, who was also the parade’s grand marshal, rode to the veterans memorial next to the municipal building in the passenger seat of a green Army Jeep. The owner of Hero’s House of Pizza on Waterville Road, DeFelice, who served from 2001 to 2009 and left the military with the rank of staff sergeant, served in the 25th Infantry Division and the 162nd Air Defense Artillery. He was a team member on an Avenger, a Humvee with Stinger missiles and a 50-caliber machine gun capable of firing 2,000 rounds a minute.

He was deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan and attached to Special Forces in 2004-05 as an air defense artillery gunner. During the 14-month tour, he was wounded by small arms fire — shot three times in the chest in an ambush, suffering six broken ribs — and was saved by a protective vest. During a 16-month deployment to Iraq, he was struck 28 times by roadside bombs and awarded a Purple Heart.

DeFelice told the crowd Sunday about U.S. Army Sgt. Travis Atkins, of Bozeman, Montana, who was killed in Iraq in 2007 while protecting three fellow soldiers from a suicide bomber’s detonation.

“This is the reality of military service, and this is what we take to heart on Memorial Day: We are able to be here today largely thanks to those who are not,” he said.

DeFelice received a hug from Mark Tanner, pastor of the Federated Church in Skowhegan, as well as loud applause from the audience.

As DeFelice spoke, a small, brown, three-legged dog named “Rebel” frolicked among the crowd, intermittently lying at the feet of his owner, Alvin Webb, 69, of Madison.

Webb, a U.S. Army veteran, served from 1968 to 1971 in the Second Armored Division during Vietnam. He served in the states, training others to repair M60 A-1 tanks, he said.

Rebel, a 2-year-old German Pincer who is without a right front leg, is Webb’s service dog. The dog was struck by a car in his front yard when he was 6 months old, according to Webb.

The Merrill family stands at attention as the Memorial Day parade passes Monday in Skowhegan. From left is father Dana and children Sawyer and Delaney. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“I take him to Togus all the time,” he said. “He eats with me and sleeps with me, and we even take showers together.”

Webb, who has a wife, Patricia, traveled to the event in a 1946 Jeep. From the passenger seat window hung the World War II army jacket of Webb’s late father-in-law, Roland St. Pierre. Webb’s son, Jay, 43, also served in the U.S. Army as a mechanic in Iraq and Bosnia, he said.

Alvin Webb said he enjoyed Monday’s parade.

“It was real good,” he said. “It was the first time I’d heard the band. It was great. I got to sing along with it.”

Parade participants included Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam, leading the procession, as well as Skowhegan Area High School Band; Peters-Shortier American Legion Post 16; Boys Scouts; Skowhegan Area Middle School Student Council; Over the River Ringers, a handbell ringer group; Get-Er Done Raceway; Skowhegan Women’s Club; Redington-Fairview EMS; Skowhegan police; Somerset County Sheriff’s Department; State Police; and Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Cornville fire departments.

It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade Monday. Lizzie Steeves sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” American Legion Auxilary member Roberta Knowles read aloud Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Ann Spaulding, also an auxiliary member, read the poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, and Ambrose McCarthy Jr. led the pledge of allegiance. Steve Spaulding, American Legion post commander and husband of Ann, made introductions.

Tanner, who welcomed the crowd and gave the benediction, asked people to honor and remember veterans, particularly those from World War II, as there are not many left. He thanked all veterans, including Korean and Vietnam War veterans present Monday.

“We don’t want to forget you — we don’t,” he said. “Our veterans never should be forgotten.”


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