ATTLEBORO — Despite overcast, rainy weather, unexpectedly large crowds turned out to take in the city’s Memorial Day parade and exercises Monday, with the focus on veterans who sacrificed their lives and their families who paid a heavy price.
A steady rain broke just before the parade emerged onto North Main Street, but damp and chilly weather did nothing to deter a large number of onlookers who lined the route between downtown and Capron Park.
Those in attendance were treated to marching units that included everything from the Attleboro High School band to a colonial fife corps, Scout troops, strolling mariachis and antique and military vehicles.
The festival atmosphere turned to one of solemnity at the conclusion of the march at the veterans triangle at Capron Park, where a rifle salute and the playing of taps bracketed speeches by local and military dignitaries.
Brig. Gen. James L. LeFavor, commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was introduced by city councilor and Air Force veteran Julie Hall. LeFavor spoke of the sacrifices of military men and women who served faithfully but committed to combat only when there is no other choice.
“Those who serve know that war is an ugly thing and know it as a last resort,” said LeFavor. Yet those who wear the uniform prepare so that in the future, any enemy will rue the day it challenged the military power of the United States, he said.
That was the case in 1962, said LeFavor, when Attleboro native and Air Force Maj. Thomas J. Deegan took off on a peacetime flight from an airbase in Oklahoma in his B-57 bomber. Shortly after takeoff, the engines failed.
Deegan heroically stayed with the airplane to steer it away from a housing complex near the base. He and his sole crewman died. Deegan, the father of eight, is now remembered with a memorial on Holden Street.
State Rep. Betty Poirier said Memorial Day should also be set aside as a time to remember the loved ones and families of those who died to defend freedom.
“In the war on terrorism, our enemies want us dead,” Poirier said. “We are fortunate to have men and women doing all they can to protect us. But it is up to us to remember their sacrifice and those they loved. We need to be there for them.”
Brennan Middle School eighth grader Jaden Royster read a proclamation from Gov. Charlie Baker in honor of Memorial Day, while Mayor Kevin Dumas said Monday’s observance stands as a stark reminder that “freedom is not free.”
City veterans services officer Ken Badertscher introduced veteran Ray Oberg, who read a list of 80 Attleboro residents and former residents who served in the armed forces who passed away in the last year.
City council President Frank Cook also addressed the crowd.
Frank Balut, chaplain of Post 312, American Legion, gave the invocation.
Monday’s ceremony was capped by a performance by the Coastline Show Chorus, ending with a salute to the nation’s five armed services.