ROCKPORT— When Samuel Coulbourn was a boy, he remembers watching veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I marching on Memorial Day, all while World War II was raging on.
Now a retired U.S. Navy captain, Coulbourn stood before the large crowd in Rockport to share remarks at the annual Memorial Day services.
"The reason we have this day, Memorial Day, and the reason we all come together in this beautiful cemetery this morning, is that in some way, we value the sacrifices of those men and women who have gone from us forever," Coulbourn said. "Let us think about the relatives, friends or neighbors that we remember, who went away, and never came back. And also those who, after their service was ended, came back and lived among us, but have now departed."
Coulbourn talked about the thoughts that go through the minds of the children, the veterans and the families and friends of those who have died.
"When we look at the men and women veterans who are here today, imagine what they are thinking," he said.
"Some of you fought in the Second World War, which ended 67 years ago. Perhaps your thoughts go to people fighting right beside you who were killed ... probably some particular scenes from that war are burned into your memory."
He recalled a Rockport resident who jumped out of a landing craft and splashed through the water onto the sands of Iwo Jima in the face of incessant Japanese army fire.
"Or maybe you were in a bomber crew flying over Germany, with anti-aircraft shells bursting all around you ... or sweating out a Japanese depth charge attack as your submarine crept along under water," he continued. "Some of you here today fought in Korea, and you may be thinking of those lost in that war that ended 59 years ago. And maybe of buddies who did return home, but have since died. Maybe you feel bitter cold at the Chosin Reservoir, or remember the sight of thousands of Chinese and North Korean soldiers, coming out of nowhere.
"More veterans here today fought in Vietnam and you remember men and women lost in that war that ended 39 years ago," he said. "I know I do.
"Some of you may have flown in those bombing raids over North Vietnam, or you may have fought on the ground in combat all over the country. Some of you were operating in ships and boats in the 'brown-water Navy,' or like me, you were aboard a ship making gunnery raids on the North Vietnamese shoreline, or operating on a carrier launching strikes against targets all over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos."
He saluted veterans who fought in Iraq in either of two Gulf Wars, or Afghanistan, a war still going on, and, in his parting words, urged all citizens to do their part to make this a better country.
"These men and women lived and died for a better America, and it is a worthwhile goal for each of us here today to dedicate ourselves to making the United States of America a better place for ourselves, and for our children, and their children," he said. "... We all hope that there won't be another war, but we must be ready to defend our freedom. When they were called, each generation of Americans has stood up, and gone off to do what needed to be done."
Retired Navy Cmdr. Brian Sullivan led the ceremony, of which George Robert Fears was grand marshal.
The event included town-wide support, from students to members of the Police and Fire departments.
Fifth-graders Sarah Murphy and William Altman recited "In Flanders Field" and "Answer to Flanders Field." The elementary and high school bands played selections at the Legion, at the cemetery and at Lumber Wharf where the ceremonies concluded to honor those lost at sea. The Boston Minutemen Division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, as well as local Girl and Boy Scouts, cast flowers and a wreath on the sea.
Taps and an echo taps were played by high school students Evan Razdan and Andrew Kostka.
Tom Paradis, a member of Holy Family Parish, was among those who offered prayers at the ceremony.
"Look around you just a moment. Look at the beauty that surrounds us today," he said. "The smell that you smell is the fragrance of freedom mixed with the salt air that makes Rockport such a special place.
"This place, these smells, this freedom comes with a price; that price is, unfortunately, the loss of life," Paradis said. "Those lives are the lives of our mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, cousins and friends. Those who have died defending our freedom are the ones we honor today in a special way.
"It is not possible," he said, "to sufficiently thank those who have given the ultimate sacrifice."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or email@example.com.