BRUNSWICK — It had been a whirlwind weekend for Richard “Archie” Pelley.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Pelley had just returned from an Honor Flight Maine trip to visit memorials in Washington D.C. Monday morning, the 91-year-old former Coast Guard chief warrant officer was seated in a convertible yellow Corvette, serving of Grand Marshal of the Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day Parade.
“How was your trip to Washington, Archie?” someone shouted.
“Amazing, just amazing,” Pelley said, as the car pulled up in the middle of the bridge connecting the two towns. “Every vet should have the chance to do this.”
Pelley took part in a brief celebration on the bridge as part of the parade, one of many held across Maine on Monday to remember and honor those who died serving the United States in the army. After two years of being limited to virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mainers flocked to in-person memories, buoyed by clear skies and summer temperatures.
Here, observers lined the parade route to watch the classic cars, marching bands, decorated bicycles, groups of veterans and other participants who traveled from Topsham Town Hall on route 201 to across the Androscoggin River to Brunswick’s wide Maine Street. It ended with more observances on the Brunswick Mall.
Observers sat on lawn chairs and blankets or stood on sidewalks. Some waved small American flags distributed by the Cubs. A woman wore a T-shirt with an American flag that read: “Home of the free because of the brave.”
Among those watching was Tyler Nadeau of Lewiston.
His grandfather, Roger Nadeau, served in Vietnam in the army. He too had just returned from the honor flight from Washington, where he met Pelley and the two men became friends. Scrolling through his smartphone, the young Nadeau showed images of his grandfather and Pelley, seated in front of the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“He’s a hell of a man, this Archie,” Nadeau said while looking at the photos. “He and my grandfather served 20 miles apart in Vietnam. They had never met.
Pelley had served 28 years in the Coast Guard. He served two missions in Vietnam and received a bronze star. He was made Grand Marshal by a member of the parade’s organizing committee and as the motorcade reached the bridge, Pelley got out of the car to take part in a wreath laying ceremony.
The parade died down when Mark Rockwood, pastor of Berean Baptist Church, offered a prayer to God to honor those who serve.
“We thank you for the men and women who put on the uniform every day,” he said.
As he spoke, a large American flag – lowered to half mast at the direction of President Biden – fluttered atop the enormous Cabot Mill, which towers over the riverbank.
When Rockwood was finished, Pelley walked to the railing of the Frank J. Wood Bridge and dropped the wreath into the fast-flowing river below. A Navy honor guard then fired three shots from their guns as the observers nodded or saluted. A trumpeter ended the ceremony with taps.
Parades and celebrations were also held in several southern Maine communities, including Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Scarborough, Falmouth, Cumberland and Cape Elizabeth.
Governor Janet Mills participated in the Sanford Parade and delivered a speech at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Springvale.
“As the daughter, niece and sister of veterans,” the governor said in a statement, “I always mark Memorial Day with gratitude and sorrow. Gratitude that my loved ones have returned from conflicts around the world and sorrow for the Maine military we lost.
U.S. Senator Angus King, I-Maine, invoked the words of Maine’s Civil War hero, General Joshua Chamberlain, before attending a ceremony at Lewiston-Auburn’s Veterans Memorial Park.
King said, “In dedicating a memorial to the men of Maine who lost their lives, Chamberlain said, ‘This is the great reward of service. To live, far away, in the lives of others.’”
“Today we are privileged and obligated to deliver on Chamberlain’s promise – to hold close the memories of our lost heroes and ensure that they continue to live on in the hearts and minds of all future Americans.”
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