WATERVILLE — It was a balmy 63 degrees and sunny Wednesday as the Veterans Day parade moved through the downtown, where sidewalks were peppered with spectators clapping and cheering.

There were veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, marching on foot and riding in cars. There were members of the Waterville Cub Scout Pack 436, motorcycles, Waterville police, Waterville and Winslow fire and rescue trucks, Delta Ambulance vehicles, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro and state Rep. Bruce White, who represents District 109.

Organized by the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5, based in Waterville, the annual Veterans Day parade went on as planned, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

As Legion post Cmdr. Craig Bailey said from the City Hall steps afterward, it was a day to honor veterans, both living and dead.

“Thank a veteran,” he said. “Your freedom was purchased with a price.”

About 140 people turned out in Castonguay Square next to City Hall following the parade to honor veterans and hear Bailey and other veterans speak.

Guest speaker Thomas R.W. Longstaff, a Legion member, former city councilor, state representative and U.S. Marine veteran, said that on Memorial Day, men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country and our freedoms are remembered.

Tom Longstaff delivers the keynote address Wednesday during the Veterans Day ceremony at Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville. The Veterans Day parade and ceremony were organized by Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“Today, on Veterans Day, we remember all of those men and women who have served in the armed forces of our country and, in my remarks today, I am also thinking of those who are still on active duty in the military,” he said. “This is a day when we honor those men and women and thank them for their service.”

Longstaff said that Americans observe Veterans Day every year, but this year is different, with a pandemic increasing in intensity and people more deeply divided than they have been in many years. With that in mind, he said, he wanted to share a story that shapes the way he thinks about Veterans Day this year.

Sixty-seven years ago he boarded a train in Winthrop headed for Parris Island and boot camp, he said.

After train changes in Boston and New York and, heading  south from Washington, D.C., conductors walked through and asked Longstaff and others to move to cars toward the front of the train and people of color were asked to move toward the rear, he said.

“As I looked out the window when we passed through other stations, I saw something I’d never seen before — separate drinking fountains for white and colored, separate restrooms and more,” he said. “Once I arrived in South Carolina, I learned what segregation was really like.”

On the base, things were different, he said. Although in the 1950s the number of Black U.S. Marines was relatively small, during his three years of service, the number grew steadily and the segregation of earlier years was ending, according to Longstaff.

“On the base, we were housed in the same barracks, we stood in line and ate together in the same mess halls, we drank beer together in the slop-chute, or enlisted personnel’s club, and we went to chapel together,” he said. “Of course, in all of our training, we were never separated, but worked together as a team. After we finished boot camp and received our orders to serve elsewhere, we continued to see ourselves as team members. Cooperation rather than competition came to define our identity as Marines, rather than individuals.”

Color guard members lead the Veterans Day parade through downtown Waterville on Wednesday. The parade was organized by Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Longstaff said those in the armed forces had and still do have differences and can disagree and argue, but when they face a common enemy or have a duty that requires everyone to take part, they work as a team and have each other’s backs.

“And this is a commitment to our country that I hope our veterans can continue and inspire others to share,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we need to work shoulder to shoulder to help our country get through these unusually difficult times.”

Mike Switzer, commander of Forest J. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1285 of Waterville said that for generations, men and women of the armed forces have put country before self and served for the greater good, not seeking glory, recognition or personal gain.

On Veterans Day, the nation honors the contributions of nearly 22 million veterans living and dead, according to Switzer.

“History has provided us with extraordinary examples of their selfless deeds,” he said. “They’ve brought hope, faith and liberty to millions of people around the world. The true number of people who have benefitted cannot be calculated and the number of erected memorials or speeches delivered doesn’t begin to represent the true scope of service our nation’s veterans have provided.”

Switzer said Veterans Day is not for veterans alone, but for all Americans — who have a role to play in carrying the legacy and burden of freedom.

“Each citizen must strive to ensure that America fulfills its promise to provide our veterans with the benefits and entitlements they’ve earned and deserve,” he said.

Veterans Day parade participants travel along Main Street during the Veterans Day parade Wednesday through downtown Waterville. The parade was organized by Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Legion Chaplain Steve Rogers said prayers and Bailey’s daughter, Abbey Bailey, 21, sang the national anthem to applause.

Chuck Paradis, 64, of Fairfield, whose father served in the U.S. Army and whose son and son-in-law both serve in the Maine Army National Guard, watched the parade and listened to the speeches.

“It’s a good thing that they could be able to do it today,” Paradis said.

His daughter, Lindsey Troxell, cubmaster of Waterville Cub Scouts Pack 436, said that in previous years when the children marched on Veterans Day, it was snowing or raining.

“This is the first time I think in five years that we’ve had T-shirt weather,” she said.

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