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Salem - Before heading out to a backyard barbecue or the beach, a couple of hundred residents in town attended the annual Memorial Day parade that honored members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives in service of this country
"I know people are going to picnics today, but I want them to just take a moment and try to remember what today is about," said Richard Leuck, past post commander of the Salem Memorial VFW Post 2774, who helped organize the half-mile parade. "I want them to think about who died for us so we could live in this great country."
Leuck said this year's service was dedicated to those who served in the various wars throughout the Middle East.
Salem's parade was quintessential old-fashioned Americana. Folks with folding chairs, children dressed in red, white and blue and parents who took photos of them lined Route 85.
Kate Howe, and her 5-year-old son Noah, sat in lawn chairs next to the viewing stands. She said people should honor those who died and thank those who continue to serve not just today but every day.
"For a small town, Salem's parade is impressive," said Howe. "My father served in Vietnam and I called him to thank him for his service. But it's something we should do every day. We are able to enjoy our freedom because they sacrificed so much for us."
Some parade revelers began the festivities bright and early with breakfast at the Congregational Church of Salem. The Memorial Day breakfast started about 11 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. This year a portion of the proceeds raised would go toward a mission trip to Haiti that three church members are going to do.
Breakfast co-chairs Manuela Vasquez, Terry Forsberg, and Cheryl Johnson, who were responsible for the event, said the breakfast has become a tradition in itself.
"It brings the community together," said Vasquez. "It's a nice starting point to go to before the parade starts. It has become a community event."
Larry Benedict is one of the three members who is going to Cap-Haitien, where he will join another service group in Haiti to build a chicken coop, build school benches and paint classrooms at a school/orphanage. He said he is collecting school supplies that can be dropped off at the church before his June 29 trip.
Benedict said the mission trip like the parade is all about service. His father was in the Army and served in Korea.
"I think and reflect about those who served," said Benedict.
The parade featured all of the classic staples. The Boy and Girl Scouts marched, the East Lyme and Salem School marching bands played patriotic music, there were firetrucks and tractors and Little Leaguers and members of Lions Club, who arrived before the parade got underway to help set up the viewing stand.
The parade also featured the public debut of the Bluebird, a reproduction of a Civil War-era coach used to pick up young ladies - usually wealthy Southerners - at local train stations and transport them to the Music Vale Seminary, which is also marking its 175th anniversary. A brief performance of songs written by Salem native, Orramel Whittlesey, who founded the school in 1839, was performed after Monday's festivities concluded.
Pastor Michael Jones, of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Oakdale, gave the opening prayer while Pastor Timothy Dubeau of the Congregational Church of Salem offered the closing prayer.
First Selectman Kevin Lyden and Rep. Edward Jutila, D-East Lyme, were also present.
"I want you to look closely at the flag and the 50 stars on them," said Lyden. "Each star represents more than the 25,000 that have given up their lives for the price of freedom ... that is a debt we simply cannot repay."
Retired Navy Capt. George Jackson served as the parade's grand marshal. He called out the names of local men who served this country and asked them to wave to the crowd, but as he said their names no one responded. They couldn't respond, he said, because they died in various wars throughout the country's history.
"We owe all of them more than we can every repay," said Jackson.
And just as the ceremony began, the memorial service concluded with seven bell tolls.