Published May 27. 2013 1:00PM Updated May 28. 2013 11:56AM
Salem — While it still had that small town feel, Monday morning's Memorial Day Parade was filled with big energy and pride.
"We're a little town, with a little town green, but we take pride in all that we have to offer," said Kari Esposito, who arrived early and grabbed a prime spot next to the viewing stand. "We love to see all the kids grow up and support our great volunteers."
Esposito along with her daughter, Kristina, and Esposito's mother June Merwin, sat in lawn chairs, taking photos of each other while still being cognizant about why they gathered on the town's green.
"I said my prayers this morning for all the veterans," said Esposito.
Some parade revelers began the festivities bright and early with breakfast at the Congregational Church of Salem.
Shirley Dubeau, wife of Pastor Tim Dubeau, said the Memorial Day breakfast started about 10 years ago as a means to raise funds for the church's projects, including the building of the Christian Community Center, where the breakfast was being held.
"It's pretty well attended, especially by the workers who help with the parade," said Dubeau. "We are also mindful of the memory of those who paid the ultimate price and got us our freedoms."
Tom Vernon, a veteran of the Navy, attended the breakfast and said Memorial Day was a holiday to honor the veterans who didn't return.
"People need to remember what today is about," said Vernon. "It's not just about the parties."
Chuck Zemko and his mother, Wilma, also attended the breakfast.
He said that on this day he reflects on the soldiers who were left behind in foreign lands unclaimed and in unmarked graves.
"Those are important souls to remember," said Zemko. "They fought for our freedom. They fought for me so that I may be free to voice my opinion in a Salem Town meeting. We have freedoms that other countries could only imagine."
The parade featured all of the classic staples. The Boy and Girl Scouts marched, throwing candy to spectators. The East Lyme and Salem School marching bands played patriotic music. Volunteers from the Gardner Lake and Salem fire departments marched and proudly displayed their firetrucks. Fire companies from Bozrah, Colchester, Oakdale and Chesterfield also participated.
The Salem Little Leaguers waved to the crowd as did members of the Lions Club, who arrived nearly three hours before the parade got underway to help set up the viewing stand.
William Schultz said he attends the parade every year.
"It's a social gathering for the town — this and the Apple Festival," said Schultz. "We're a total community. We have volunteers for everything we do."
After the parade concluded, seven bell tolls marked the start of the town's Memorial Day service program.
Richard Leuck, past commander of the Salem Memorial VFW Post 2774, helped organize the memorial.
Leuck said this year's service was dedicated to those who served in the Vietnam War.
"People are going to be celebrating in their homes today and I would like for them to take a moment to remember those who gave their all," said Leuck before the service got underway.
Pastor Dubeau gave the opening prayer, while Pastor Michael Jones, of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Oakdale, gave the closing prayer. Members of the Baptist church marched in the parade for the first time.
First Selectman Kevin Lyden and Rep. Edward Jutila, D-East Lyme, also spoke to the crowd.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Richard Amato served as the parade's grand marshal.
He told the spectators that it was their responsibility to talk about the legacy of our nation's fallen to the next generation.
Amato asked the crowd, "Where would you be without the sacrifices of those men and women who served this country?"