A breezy day greeted the Miltonians who gathered at the town offices Monday morning for the annual Memorial Day observance.
Just after the national anthem, two F-16 jets from the Vermont Air National Guard flew over the crowd to applause. But most of the day’s program was somber, meant to remember the men and women killed in service to their country.
This year’s keynote speaker was Lt. Col. Todd Goff, commander of the 2nd Battalion 124th Regional Training Institute at Camp Johnson in Colchester. Goff told those assembled he was inspired by the town’s monument dedicated to Milton military members killed in action.
He read the names of Vermonters who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and recognized Memorial Day is hardest for their survivors.
“There are no words I can offer to the families to help ease their pain,” Goff said. “There’s nothing in a military regulation on how to ease the burden of losing a brother or a sister in arms, but we can all come together and honor their memory.”
Milton Selectboard chairman Darren Adams’ speech was a touch more political, a liberty afforded by not wearing his military uniform, he said.
Adams, a master sergeant in the Vermont Air National Guard, drew contrasts between two Vietnam veterans and those who engage in political protests, namely by “taking a knee” during the national anthem.
Started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the take a knee movement caught on, gaining the attention and ire of President Donald Trump. Just last week, Trump praised NFL owners’ policy that allows the league to fine teams whose players don’t stand for the anthem.
“Look at the society that surrounds us in 2018. People complain and fight about tweets,” Adams said. “The only free speech is speech certain groups deem as correct.”
Service members fight for Americans’ First Amendment rights, starting with taking the Oath of Enlistment, he said.
“With those simple words … they said, ‘Take me,’” Adams said. “I cannot imagine anyone who has taken that oath who has actually wanted to die for our country, but they volunteered to do so if necessary.”
Indeed, Senior Master Sgt. Walter Ferguson was killed during Operation Linebacker, an attempt to free POWs in Vietnam, Adams told the crowd. One prisoner was Capt. William Robinson, who deployed at age 22 and was held captive for 7-and-a-half years at various camps.
Adams asked the crowd to seek out others willing to die for their country and lamented today’s culture of political correctness, lacking leadership and political will.
“My order is to go find those who said ‘take me’ instead of ‘take a knee,’” he said. “Together, we will make this country better than we found it.”
Representatives from more than a dozen community organizations then took turns placing floral tributes at the memorial garden. Vermont Air Guard Lt. Col. Scott Tomasi, the ceremony’s emcee, said the action is a small gesture but major statement.
“We remember the lessons learned from our past,” he said. “From their final resting places, these patriots call out not only to their loved ones left behind, but to all of us not to forget them.”
The observance closed with the playing of “Taps” and more patriotic music from the Milton Community Band. The Rev. John Feltz, himself an Army veteran, gave the invocation and benediction.