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Norwich community honors Memorial Day with shortened ceremony

Norwich — The point of Chelsea Parade hosted a modest crowd donning masks and sharing elbow bumps as the city and the Norwich Area Veterans Council hosted its annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday afternoon despite the pandemic.

In place of the usual procession, several guest speakers and 150 to 200 people, Monday's 20-minute program was presented to a loose gathering of a few dozen people and the city's livestream equipment. Council President John Waggoner said even though he knew early on that they would have to cancel the parade, he still wanted to swap out the wreaths at the memorials on the Parade. The council also had to cancel its public event in April honoring Vietnam War veterans.

"The same thing basically happened here. We were dragging our feet hoping things would open up by now," he said.

He said the city and Mayor Peter Nystrom have been supportive of the council's ceremonies in the past, and he worked with the mayor to develop this year's program on the Parade, which has enough room for those who did show up to spread out.

"We're trying to stay in compliance with the executive orders issued by our governor, but at the same time, we're not going to ignore Memorial Day," Nystrom said.

He said it felt strange to tell people not to come to Monday's program, but the goal was to keep people safe by not congregating on the Parade. The livestream brought the ceremony to the community so residents can take the time to honor the sacrifices of those killed in service while staying safe.

Bob Murphy, a member of the veterans council who has run the Memorial Day parade and ceremony for nearly 10 years, said the program normally requires planning as early as November to line up speakers, with parade participants signing up in January. He said several veterans who participate in the wreath laying, some of whom served in World War II and the Korean War, "wouldn't miss that for the world."

"It's not what we really want to do, but it's what we have to do," he said. "I personally think that we will get actually more viewers because we've been promoting it ... we're hoping to reach more viewers to show what Memorial Day is all about."

Murphy served as the master of ceremonies Monday, and he dedicated the program to veterans who have died in the last year.

"As we observe Memorial Day, we do more than simply carry on a tradition dating back to 1866; we also fulfill a commitment to some very special people," he said. "They were ordinary human beings, just like us, but what they accomplished was extraordinary. They answered the call of duty, thereby giving us today, tomorrow and all the tomorrows of our future."

During the wreath laying, Tom Callinan, former state troubadour, performed his original song "Some Gave All, All Gave Some," followed by the national anthem, sung by Paul Salisbury with guitar accompaniment by his brother Lloyd. Lloyd Salisbury also performed taps on his trumpet.

Marvin Serruto, who serves as the Veterans' Coffeehouse coordinator for the Thames Valley Council for Community Action's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, gave the invocation and benediction during the ceremony. He said several close family members are veterans, and he was looking forward to showing his 92-year-old mother the video, which will continue to be available on the city website at norwichct.org.

"Today I knew it'd be a good turnout," he said, gesturing to one of the monuments that lists Norwich residents who have served, including his uncle. "This town, no matter what, has always had a tremendous outpouring of patriots."

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