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Haddam Community Celebrates Memorial Day with Annual Parade, Service

By Olivia Drake

(May 31, 2023) — Hundreds of local residents lined the sidewalks in Higganum on May 29, 2023, many donning red, white, and blue t-shirts and ballcaps. Some children wore American-themed tinseled headbands that shimmered in the early morning light. Others pinned red poppies to their shirts—serving as a symbol of remembrance for those who perished in a war.

Promptly at 9:30 a.m., the distant, and familiar sound of a fife and drum corps grabbed the attention of the spectators. People cheered, whistled, and waved American flags in anticipation.

The 2023 Town of Haddam Memorial Day Parade had begun.

A cavalcade of war veterans, followed by military and fire department personnel, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and several student-athletes began a slow descent down Killingworth Road toward Higganum Center.

Whitney Brookes, Jr.

Many local veterans, such as 95-year-old Haddam resident Whitney Brookes, Jr., were escorted through town in a military jeep. Brookes—who served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army—dressed in his khaki-colored battle dress uniform, yellow-laced knee-high combat boots, and a cobalt Korean War Veteran cap. He smiled and nodded at the jubilant parade crowd as they offered him personalized applause.

Rifle Squad

The more ambulant parade participants followed in line. First, the color guard. Two men carrying the American and State of Connecticut flags, walked in the center. Each was protected on the outside by another man carrying a rifle. Next came a full-member rifle squad, then the Higganum-Haddam Fife & Drum Corps, and then a dozen or so other local veterans and current military personnel.

HVFC Auxiliary

The vets were preceded by members of Haddam Volunteer Fire Company, the Haddam Volunteer Fire Company Auxiliary, Haddam’s Masonic Lodge Granite No. 119, the Haddam-Killingworth Middle School band, Haddam Volunteer Ambulance, Haddam Boy Scouts, Haddam Girl Scouts, and several athletic teams.

HVFC Members

The short, but celebratory parade concluded with a Memorial Day service at the south end of the Haddam Town Green at the Veterans Memorial site. This year, Hilary McLellen, pastor of the United Congregational Church of Haddam and Higganum (UCCHH) led with a prayer; Haddam-Killingworth Middle School eighth-grade student Peyton Dixon read her prize-winning essay titled “The Gift of Life,” and First Selectman and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Bob McGarry shared remarks.

Haddam First Selectman Bob McGarry

“Today is the day many of us consider the first day of summer. A holiday for gathering friends and family, enjoying good food and good times,” he said. “Enjoy the day, but pause and give some thought as to how we should thank those we honor today. What do we owe these brave few? How do we repay their eternal debt?,” McGarry asked the audience. “We must honor them each and every day by using the gifts they have given us to create a better world, a stronger nation, a kinder community.”

United States Marine Corps veteran Ed Andeen serves as a wreath bearer

As part of the program, the names of all 52 Haddam servicemen who were killed in military action—since the Revolutionary War—were read out loud. Among them, Lieutenant Shubael Brainerd from the Continental Navy; Private Aaron Clark and Corporal William Brooks from the Civil War’s Grand Army of the Republic; Chief Carpenter’s Mate Erwin Parmelee, Staff Sergeant Thomas Nosal, and Seamen Raymond E. Burr from World War II; Marine Private First Class Fred Schuller from the Korean War; and others whose descendants continue to live in the Haddam community.

In addition, the names of 25 servicemen—all Haddam residents—who have died since the 2022 Memorial Day Parade, also were acknowledged. Among them, Vietnam War Army veteran Dr. Joseph Zaientz; World War II Navy veteran Henry Kmietek; and War in Iraq Army veteran Matthew Silvestrini.

“Always remember that the greatest casualty of war is to be forgotten,” said event emcee and U.S. Navy and U.S. Army veteran Steve Abbatello. “We will never forget our veterans from Haddam who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The service concluded with a rifle squad firing three shots to honor the deceased veterans. This practice, also referred to as a three-volley-salute, is often performed at military funerals.

The band then played “Taps” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Afterward, Abbatello welcomed the audience to visit the Haddam Veterans Museum and Community Center, adjacent to the Town Green. There, members of the Haddam Volunteer Fire Auxiliary sold clam chowder, which was made prior to the parade by Haddam firefighters. Proceeds of this annual tradition benefit the Veterans Museum.

The annual Haddam Memorial Day Parade dates back to 1930, if not earlier. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, traces back to the aftermath of the Civil War when veterans would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers.

“Duty, honor, country—they lived for it. And they died for it,” McGarry said. “As a nation, we must remind ourselves of the future they fought for and do our best to live up to those values in the days ahead.”

Photos by Olivia Drake




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