WAYNE — Later in the day would come the cookouts and family gatherings and boat rides that would mark the unofficial start of summer vacation season.

But for a stretch of time Monday, on a perfect Maine late-spring morning, the people of this small western Kennebec County town and their friends gathered along Main Street to watch the annual Memorial Day parade and the wreath laying at the Veterans Memorial Stone before gathering at Veterans Memorial Park for a Memorial Day Service of Reflection and Remembrance for speeches, music and a second wreath laying in the mill pond.

“We hope you will carry the message of Memorial Day into venues where you live and work, that you can teach and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices that we commemorate today,” said Douglas Stevenson, a member of the Wayne Memorial Day Committee and the emcee of the event, to the 400 people gathered in the park.

“This is the 151th anniversary of the observance of Memorial Day, designated in 1868 by Gen. John Logan as a day of remembrance of those who have fallen in our nation’s service. This is probably the most solemn day of the year,” Stevenson said.

Gina Lamarche, who was the guest speaker, counted up the number of American service members killed in war dating back to the Civil War.

“We still lose around 1,500 service men and women each year, service men and women who each have loved ones, spouses, children, parents, siblings and friends, each part of the community,” she said. “This day has become a celebration of honor for all of those who have died in all America’s wars as well as those who are veterans and among the current numbers of U.S. military.”

Lamarche said even as those veterans who took part in the ceremony stored away their uniforms and the Maranacook Community High School students who marched in the parade and sang the national anthem rejoined their parents, they and others could continue to honor the fallen.

“This is something we can do every day. We can honor the value of opportunity. The possibility of opportunity was created by the fallen. Opportunity is what our country was built upon. We now have choices in our lives — education, career, where we choose to live, who spend our time with, how we spend our time. Our lives can be what we make them to be,” she said.

She recounted the story of her grandmother Vera who left her home and family in Italy at 19 in the years after World War II to come to the United States and build a life for her family.

“We have so much good; we can each make a difference in the lives of others, just as the fallen have made a difference in each of ours,” she said.

In addition to naming the service members who have been killed in the wars of the 20th century, the ceremony also honored three veterans who died in the past year: Sherwin Mullen, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean conflict; Robert Stevenson, who served in the U.S. Navy; and Michael J. Diamond, who was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and reached that rank again in the Army National Guard.

While the day honors service members from Wayne who have died, the town also honored its living veterans gathered for the ceremony by publicly introducing them. Douglas Stevenson noted that they carried with them the memories of the people who served with them but are no longer here.

Lincoln Ladd, 93, chats with his neighbor, Priscilla Stevenson, 102, during Wayne’s Memorial Day celebration Monday. Ladd served in combat during World War II in the South Pacific and assembled with veterans from several other conflicts during the annual gathering. Stevenson is the community’s Boston Cane recipient. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Among them was Lincoln Ladd. At 93, Ladd is Wayne’s surviving veteran from World War II.

“I was lucky,” Ladd said after the end of the service.

Ladd enrolled in the U.S. Navy as a teenager in the latter half of the war, while his family was in Rhode Island. As a fire control man, he was in charge of a quad 40 gun on an LSM, a class of landing ships built for the Navy in World War II. His ship made one landing, on Iwo Jima in 1945. Because it had engine trouble, Ladd’s ship arrived at the island three days later than the other ships landed in that historic battle.

Once there, it took part in the battle, ferried supplies from larger ships ashore and brought injured and dead soldiers off the island.

Ladd, who eventually moved to Wayne full-time and was the head of the English and Foreign Language Department at Maranacook Community High School, has taken part in Wayne’s observance regularly for decades, with the exception of the year he and his wife Gloria traveled to Nova Scotia.

He said he does it because he wants to have the community function together.

“This does bring us together,” he said. “It is personal. We know a lot of people; you do in a small town. And it’s an enjoyable coming together for a worthwhile activity — Memorial Day, not only in a patriotic sense but in the sense of a community together.”

Reflecting on what came of World War II, Ladd said it did unify the government both during the war and in the years that immediately followed.

“There was a sense of pride and a sense of achievement,” he said.

Memorial Day as it now exists started to take shape in the years after the Civil War, four years of bloody combat that killed an estimated 750,000 Americans. In its earliest days, it was known as Decoration Day, when the graves of soldiers were decorated with flowers and flags. For 102 years, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, but in 1971, the observance was changed to the last Monday in May.

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