Bayport Memorial Day Parade

Children gather candy at the Bayport Memorial Day Parade.

It was difficult to tell at first if the distant rumble was thunder or motorcycles, both of which made an appearance at Bayport’s Memorial Day Parade on Monday. Wet weather couldn’t keep away the spectators though, who lined up along the parade route to honor the sacrifices of our nation’s war dead.

Marching bands from two schools across the river participated in the parade. The Hudson High School band passed before the Bayport American Legion post just as the skies opened up. Despite the rain, the majorettes kept their blue and white banners spinning before them while the drums and brass played a Sousa number. A little later came Baldwin’s marching band with their version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Yellow slickered against a low gray sky six riders on horseback, representing the Washington County Sheriff’s mounted patrol, put on an equestrian display.

Bringing up the rear, after a procession of engine and ladder trucks from nearby communities, was the Zuhrah Cycle Corps, whose cyles rumbled as they turned in trick formation.

The parade’s route ended at Hazelwood Cemetery, where a solemn remembrance ceremony was held, with Dave Schell, a Vietnam War-era veteran, American Legion Adjutant and VFW Chaplain, was the featured speaker.

By 11:30 a.m. the skies had cleared over Stillwater and the sun shone brightly upon the service flags flying at the Stillwater Veterans Memorial. Up the hill, the Stillwater Area High School had set up in front of the historic courthouse and down at the site of the Memorial the Croix Chordsmen harmonized the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The featured speaker for the ceremony was Army Captain Charles Anderson. Anderson saw combat duty in the Middle East, serves in Army Intelligence, is a Commander on the St. Paul Police force and resides in Marine on St. Croix.

“What is our responsibility to the dead?” Anderson asked the crowd. He talked of the Civil War, in which two-and-a-half percent of the United States population died, and evoked his own experiences as a soldier, including last summer’s suicide attack in Kabul.

Anderson’s speech then turned to the question of what makes a person a hero, and what happens when a nation too readily applies that label. “For the countless who died of not feat other than following orders, unlucky happenstance, or the utilitarian attrition necessary to advance the front, to make them heroes runs the risk of taking away their humanity.”

Evoking an oft quoted line from Horace, Anderson then asked that we consider the honor often associated with dying for one’s country. “Death in defense of the state is not honorable in its own right,” he said, “without virtues deeper than pure allegiance to a symbol or a flag.”

As for honoring that sacrifice, Anderson said, “I will pray today for their eternal repose.

“War can make us poignantly aware of the beauty of the world and that death does not have the last word.”

During his closing remarks, the ceremony’s emcee Bruce Brevitz spoke of the enormous human cost of war. He recalled the Civil War’s First Minnesota Infantry Regiment, Company B of which was from Stillwater. The First Minnesota, he said, knowingly embarked on a doomed charge at Gettysburg, suffering an 85% casualty rate.

“Almost a million and a half Americans have died defending this nation throughout its history,” Brevitz said. “Somehow the phrase ‘Thank you’ seems woefully inadequate”

Brevitz then urged those present to honor their sacrifices by giving something back. “The popular phrase is ‘Pay it forward,’” he said. “Volunteer your time to a charity whose mission speaks to you, mentor a kid, coach a youth athletic team, take time to visit the elderly, help out at an animal shelter. Whatever your passion is, act upon it.

“Those we honor today did not die in vain. Live your life in a way that honors their sacrifices.”

As Brevitz brought his remarks to a close, bells began to chime from nearby towers, signaling that it was noon. And as he concluded, the roar of airplane engines could be heard coming in from the west. The T-6 Thunder Flight Team passed overhead in formation.

The T-6 aircraft is a World War II era training aircraft. The planes flew nimble and fast, some of them trailing smoke as they made several passes over the Veterans Memorial.

During one of the passes, the team flew in what is called the “Missing Man Formation,” as Bruce Brevitz explained to the crowd, to recognize the sacrifices of those who have never returned home.

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