Chicopee residents at the Memorial Day ceremony stand and salute the flag during the national anthem.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

CHICOPEE — Residents, veterans, local politicians, elected officials and gold star families gathered at American Legion Post 275 on May 27 to recognize and remember those that risked their lives for the United States.

The ceremony began with the national anthem and a performance by the Chicopee Comprehensive High School band.

Mayor John Vieau spoke about the support the community shows its veterans and the growing junior air force ROTC program at Chicopee High School. Vieau said that Chicopee has nearly 4,500 veterans and recognized all those who served, are currently serving and those who lost loved ones during their service.

He added, “We’re a very veteran proud city. Memorial Day is about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Today and every day, we honor your bravery and recognize each service member for heroically defending our freedom. We must pause to honor, reflect and remember the precious lives lost, the demonstration of courage by those who served and the strength they have no doubt shown throughout the most difficult of times,” Vieau added.

Commander of the 439th Maintenance Group, 439th Airlift Wing, Westover Air Reserve Base Colonel Jordan Murphy was also at the event to honor those who served in general but also from Westover.

“Our installation has a rich history of participation in every American Conflict from before World War II,” Murphy added.

He went through some of the wars that include veterans who should always be recognized.

Murphy said, “We first observe this day of remembrance during the Civil War. This bloody conflict in which Americans fought each other but in this many decades since that war ended, Americans have come together, united in the cause of freedom and democracy. Their sacrifices span the generations fighting in wars in many fronts far from home in jungles of South Pacific, bloody beaches of Normandy, icy steep slopes of Korea, the rice patties of Vietnam and more recently in mountains and caves of Afghanistan.”

He also memorialized different veterans either from Chicopee by telling their stories about their sacrifice they displayed while serving their country.

State Sens. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) and John Velis (D-Westfield) also shared their respect for veterans.
Velis shared a story from 11 years ago about his experience as a major in the Army National Guard after an attack took place where multiple IEDs exploded inside and outside the gate of a military base causing soldiers to be hurt and killed while him and others responded to the situation.

He said, “I’ll be honest, I was scared. I didn’t know what it was. Shortly after another explosion went off. Knowing how U.S. service members respond, when their battle buddies are in trouble and hurt, they run towards the explosion, they run towards the bullets and that’s precisely what happened.”

Velis said a memory that is seared in his mind is having the privilege with three other soldiers of carrying the stretcher of a fallen solider to a hero flight Blackhawk helicopter that landed on base where two soldiers onboard saluted the body.

He added, “We say on Veterans Day, a veteran is someone who at some point in their life wrote a check for an amount of up to, and including their life. That’s Veteran’s Day. On Memorial Day, we honor those where that check was cashed. It’s a big difference.”

State Rep. Shirley Arriaga (D-Chicopee) said she was there to pay respect and tribute to “our fallen brothers and sisters in arms” and make sure those veterans’ stories are always told.

She added, “There are so many ways we can honor their contributions. Not only today but all the time. One of those ways is by simply sharing their stories and making sure that their stories, their families live on.”

Arriaga said the Massachusetts House of Representatives just passed the Hero Act which honors, empowers and recognizes service members and veterans by expanding access support and benefits for veterans in Massachusetts.

It broadens the definition of veteran, allows more veterans to qualify for Chapter 115 benefits, increase a veteran’s annuity by 25% from $2,000 to $2,500 and eliminates the additional $40 license plate for veterans and their plates, according to Arriaga.

She added, “These are just a few highlights from one of the most comprehensive veteran bills Massachusetts has seen in recent years. I am sharing this with you because we know there’s work to be done and we are not done but this is a step in the right direction,” Arriaga added.

“The Earls” sang a military tribute to veterans, recognizing the gold star families in attendance.

There are over 11,000 Chicopee veterans that have passed on with approximately 2,500 buried outside the city of Chicopee and 850 that rest in different locations overseas.

The ceremony concluded with veterans laying a wreath in remembrance of residents who perished while fighting in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the War on Terror.