“One.” Parents leaned close and readied their cameras.
“Two.” Seventh-graders looked at each other in excited anticipation. They had waited all day for this, waited for years, watching as older students took their turns. They had led the procession from Edgartown School down Main street to Memorial Wharf, and now stood at the water’s edge, clutching a garden, ready to pay tribute to generations of fallen soldiers.
“Three!” Flowers flew in the air, a collage of purple, red, pink, yellow and white landing softly in the glimmering harbor.
The tradition of the annual March to the Sea Parade continued for another year in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven last Friday.
At the Edgartown School, students lined up before the march. The seventh graders stood in front, dressed in standard-issue formal school function attire — white button-down shirts and blouses over black pants and skirts, with the occasional poor soul hoping no one noticed his navy blue slacks. The younger classes stood behind them, drenched in color, twirling small American flags.
As with any tradition, the march to the sea is ingrained in the Island community. Anne Fligor, assistant principal at the Edgartown school, emphasized the importance of that connection as she walked up and down the lines before the procession, checking that everything was in place.
“I love the fact that we stop traffic for this,” she said.
The connection was evident as students and teachers made their way down Main street. People waved and cheered from the sidewalks as the kids walked by.
“We have a lot of people in the community who walked as kids and work downtown,” Mrs. Fligor said. “They look forward to this. They remember.”
Sandy Yerkes waited on the stoop of the Jonathan Munroe house, where she and her husband run a bed and breakfast. When her son, sixth-grader Michael Berube, passed by she jumped up and handed him a bouquet for the ceremony. Her son, she explained, knew that the march was more than just a few hours off from class on a sunny afternoon.
“He sees that this is a big deal,” she said. “He understands the validity of the ceremony.”
There is a recurring theme to Memorial Day on the Vineyard and across the country, the idea that the day is not just one of remembering but of reminding Americans old and young what the holiday means. For many, it signifies the beginning of summer. For businesses on the Vineyard, it means the immigration of thousands of shoppers. It falls on teachers and veterans to remind us that Monday is meant as a time to honor those who served their country.
As the procession filtered into Memorial Wharf, former selectman Lieut. Col. Fred B. Morgan Jr. assumed the duty.
“You people have to understand how important this day is,” he told the crowd.
Abandoning his prepared speech, the World War II veteran spoke directly to the audience of children sitting cross-legged in front of him.
“Instill this in your parents. We can’t forget, we’ve got to remember all these people who gave their lives to the country.”
The band played songs like America, with fingers finding the right keys as young windpipes strained to play the notes loud enough to match the excitement of the event.
“They always seem to come through,” band director Zach Tileston said of his group of fifth and sixth graders.
When fifth-grader Kevin Montambault and sixth-grader Lucas Thors played Taps on their trumpets, a hush fell over the crowd as they listened to the solemn notes.
“I think it’s important for the band to play,” Mr. Tileston said afterward as he packed the last of the equipment onto a school bus. He explained that a song like America adds to the sense of patriotism in the ceremony. “It’s important for the band to play it and it’s important for the rest of the school to hear it.”
For their contribution, the seventh graders recited Walt Whitman’s Oh Captain My Captain.
“But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,” they chanted in unison. “Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.”
They were followed by the eighth-graders, who recited the Gettysburg address.
Mark Alan Lovewell, a writer and photographer for the Gazette, sang Roll Alabama Roll. In between the choruses he narrated over his banjo the history of the Alabama and the Shenandoah, historic schooners moored in Vineyard Haven. During the Civil War, he explained, the Confederate ships evoked very different feelings in places like Edgartown than they do now.
And, of course, there was the ceremonial tossing of the flowers into the harbor. Mrs. Fligor called it a rite of passage.
“Some of these kids have been watching them do it for six years and now it’s their turn,” she said.
Triva and Stephen Emery watched the ceremony from the upper deck of the wharf. They had just moved from Portland, Ore., and it was their son Camden’s first day of school.
“Very moving. Lovely,” Mrs. Emery said afterward. “I think it’s a great ceremony and I think the kids get something out of it.”
She walked over to her son’s first-grade class and asked the seven-year-old if he’d like to speak with a reporter.
Camden moved slowly away from his classmates and looked up shyly. The colors and sounds moved around him as he reflected on his induction into the Island community amid one of its longstanding traditions. He summed it all up with a simple, “It was good,” and then ran off to catch up with his class as they marched back to school.