Laying wreaths during Memorial Day ceremonies

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
The color guard from VFW Post 1523 at St. Mary's Cemetery. Photos by D. Coffey.
The color guard from VFW Post 1523 at St. Mary's Cemetery. Photos by D. Coffey.

At 10 a.m. on May 29, a small but devoted contingent stopped at the graveside of a serviceman in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Putnam. In about 15 minutes, they carried out a traditional and respectful Memorial Day ceremony by laying a wreath on his grave.

A color guard followed the lead of Commander Bob Richards from VFW Post 1523 on a short march to the grave, where the commander placed a wreath on a stand. The soldiers saluted. Chaplain Ernest (Jerry) Salvas read a prayer.

A rifle party of National Guardsmen standing 100 feet away delivered a three-volley salute. Young Marine Corporal Eddie Partlow played “Taps.” He was answered by another Young Marine whose baleful echo came from a spot far out in the cemetery.

The service came to an end and the group moved on to the next stop.

The placement symbolizes the respect due to all war veterans who have passed. In the war on terror, more than 6,000 servicemen and women have lost their lives in defense of the country. In Vietnam, it was more than 211,000; in World War II, it was more than 1,076,000. The numbers can be overwhelming. The enormity of the loss is narrowed into perspective by the selection of one grave.

Wreaths were laid at eight locations in Putnam that morning. After St. Mary’s Cemetery, the group traveled to the Providence Street Bridge near the intersection of Church Street and Route 171. It is the custom for wreaths to be dropped into waters or hung on bridge abutments to recognize veterans of the Navy and Coast Guard. The group went on to Veteran’s Park, then the Hopkins Bridge on Pomfret Street. From there, they went to the foot bridge that crosses the Quinebaug River just off Kennedy Drive.

The contingent moved to the Grove Street Civil War monument and then to the Grove Street Cemetery. The last stop was the Revolutionary War cemetery on Nancy Street.

Buster Corey, a member of the Sons of the American Legion, helped make sure it went smoothly. Corey never served in the armed forces. He wanted to, but the Army wouldn’t have him.

“I married at 17. I had a dependent,” he said.

He wanted to do something to honor the servicemen and women whose units he couldn’t join. And he wanted to honor his grandfather, Chester Corey, who fought in the Army during World War I. He joined the Sons of the American Legion. For the last 15 to 20 years, he has been making sure the wreath ceremony goes off smoothly. He selects the gravesites to be honored and mounts the hangers at bridges and monuments so that wreaths can be hung.

“You’re honoring the people who served for you,” he said when asked why he did it. “Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t be here or have the lives that we do.”


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