Healey honors ‘the human cost of our freedom’ at Memorial Day speech in Winchendon; Athol also marks the day

Bill Wrigley of Orange was the guest speaker at Memorial Day observances in Athol on Monday. “The unwavering dedication and devotion of American combat soldiers in defense of freedom, democracy, and love of country defines their sacrifice,” he said.

Bill Wrigley of Orange was the guest speaker at Memorial Day observances in Athol on Monday. “The unwavering dedication and devotion of American combat soldiers in defense of freedom, democracy, and love of country defines their sacrifice,” he said. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Jerry Godin and Elwin Deveneau were grand marshals for Memorial Day observances in Athol on Monday.

Jerry Godin and Elwin Deveneau were grand marshals for Memorial Day observances in Athol on Monday. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Gov. Maura Healey and Veterans Services Secretary Jon Santiago laying a wreath at the state Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon on Monday, where the governor gave a keynote speech.

Gov. Maura Healey and Veterans Services Secretary Jon Santiago laying a wreath at the state Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon on Monday, where the governor gave a keynote speech. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Gov. Maura Healey speaking at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Mass. Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon on Monday.

Gov. Maura Healey speaking at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Mass. Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon on Monday. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

By Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-27-2024 3:14 PM

Modified: 05-27-2024 3:34 PM


REGION — While an overflow crowd gathered to hear Gov. Maura Healey speak at the community building at the Mass. Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon Monday, other people stood quietly among the headstones — some 2,600 of them — remembering friends and family members who have served in the U.S. Armed Services.

“Not enough people in our country appreciate the significance of this day,” Healey asserted. “While it’s nice to have a beer and a burger with loved ones and family, that is not what Memorial Day is about. What Memorial Day is about is right here. This is a day, a weekend, to honor those who served and paid the ultimate price.”

Citing the decorated graves, Healey said, “For me, the meaning of Memorial Day is about all these flags, of freedoms that far too many take for granted — of prosperity, of safety; none of this is possible without the sacrifice of those who served and those who gave their lives. The full cost of our freedom is defined by those who made the ultimate sacrifice — the heroes we remember on Memorial Day.”

Healey noted that Massachusetts has played a role in winning and securing America’s freedom from before the nation was created. Among the Bay State’s firsts, she said, were the first version of the National Guard, the first unit of the United States’ Army, “and the first shot in the American Revolution. Through world wars and peace keeping missions, generation after generation of our neighbors have served; have served with distinction across all branches of the military.”

The governor recalled her experience participating in the “dignified transfer” of the remains of Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob “Jake” Galliher, a Pittsfield native who died in the crash of an Osprey V-22 during a training mission of the southern coast of Japan in December 2023.

Healey said the 24-year-old “was a friend and a role model to all who knew him. In the grief of his loved ones and the loss we saw sweep through an entire community, we saw the cost of our freedom — the human cost of our freedom. It’s a cost we absolutely must acknowledge and honor, and it’s a debt that we owe that we can never fully repay. But we can — and we will — never forget.”

The governor also took time to enumerate some of the initiatives taken by her administration to improve the lives of Massachusetts veterans. She cited the efforts of Veterans Services Secretary Jon Santiago, who also spoke at Monday’s ceremony, to “transform” the state veterans homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. In addition, she said is mounting a “$20 million campaign to eliminate veterans’ homelessness once and for all.” Efforts are also being made to assist veterans’ families, she said.

“In memory of our fallen heroes,” said Healey, “we must renew our commitment to all who served. Let us be a state and country worthy of their sacrifice. As we enjoy this time with family and friends, let us never forget those who made it all possible.”

Athol ceremonies

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Memorial Day ceremonies were also held in Athol Monday morning.

Following stops at Vietnam Veterans of America Park, Phillips Park, VFW Park, and Silver Lake Cemetery, a contingent consisting of veterans of various branches of the Armed Forces marched to Veterans Park in downtown Athol.

Two veterans shared the honor of serving as grand marshal for the day’s events. U.S. Air Force veteran Elwin Deveneau, 87, served from 1953 to 1961. Among his postings was service at a “critical radar surveillance site” at Cartwright Air Force Base in Labrador. He held the rank of staff sergeant at the time he left the USAF.

Sharing grand marshal honors was fellow Air Force and Korean War veteran Jerry Godin, 93. Godin served from 1953 to 1956. Awarded the National Defense Service Medal, he attained the rank of staff sergeant before leaving for civilian life.

Guest speaker for the closing ceremony was Orange native Bill Wrigley. After enlisting in the U.S. Army, he served in Germany as a criminal lawyer’s assistant in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corp. He currently serves as Judge Advocate for Athol American Legion Post 102.

Wrigley recalled the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. Lincoln, he said, worried aloud whether “America’s experiment in democratic governance, owing from the thousands of deaths in our fight for freedom from British rule, could endure — especially with the nation engaged in a tragic civil war.”

He went on to note that 1.3 million “American soldiers lives have been lost in defense of freedom ... We are gathered here today to both honor and memorialize all those who have given their lives in the cause of freedom.”

Wrigley said the “men and women of our armed forces have fought and died to protect the freedom of millions people throughout the world who have suffered from the tyranny and oppression inflicted upon them by their authoritarian and totalitarian governments. The cause of freedom continues because it must.”

As an example, he cited the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“Our armed forces in Europe, together with NATO countries, are preparing against the threat of Russia expanding its criminal invasion into neighboring NATO countries,” said Wrigley. He also noted that many American veterans have volunteered to serve in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion.

He cited the loss of American troops in Syria and Iraq, and off the coast of Yemen in recent years. U.S. Special Forces, he said, are also assisting in the fight against terrorist organizations on the African continent.

“The unwavering dedication and devotion of American combat soldiers in defense of freedom, democracy, and love of country defines their sacrifice,” he said. “I can not conceive of our nation ever allowing their collective honor and valor to fade from our collective memories.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.