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The Fausey School Chorus performs at the Memorial Day ceremony.

Reminder Publishing photo by Michael Ballway

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Memorial Day started as a way to remember those who died in the Civil War. But for state Sen. John Velis, the commemoration brings to mind much more recent, and much more personal, losses.

Army veteran Mustafa Thompson speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony outside West Springfield Town Hall; standing with him, from left, are state Sen. John Velis, state Rep. Michael Finn and Mayor William Reichelt.
Reminder Publishing photo by Michael Ballway

“April 6, 2013, started off like any other day in southern Afghanistan,” Velis recalled in his keynote speech at the Memorial Day ceremony in West Springfield on May 27. He was serving in the Army at the time, he said, and “at some point … I heard an explosion that forever will be seared into my mind.”

He remembers fellow servicemen running toward the site of the blast, but the first bomb wasn’t the last. It was a common tactic among Afghan fighters to set off multiple bombs so that Americans rushing in to rescue wounded comrades would also die, Velis said.

Three of his friends died that day, Specialist Robles-Santa, staff Sgt. Christopher Ward and Specialist Delfin Santos.

He was reminded of them when his deployment ended, and it came time for him to leave Afghanistan. Bagram Air Base had a large mural where soldiers leaving the country would pause and reflect. Written on it was the phrase “Live a life worthy of their sacrifice.”

Nate Kelly sounds taps at the West Springfield Memorial Day ceremony on May 27.
Reminder Publishing photo by Michael Ballway

He thought of his friends, and that mural in Afghanistan, on Memorial Day in 2024.

“You are leaving, you are going home, you are going to see your loved ones again … but everyone is not,” Velis said. “That’s what Memorial Day is. We honor those who did not come home.”

State Rep. Michael Finn and Mayor William Reichelt also spoke at the May 27 event, which took place on Central Street in front of Town Hall despite an intermittent drizzle. The marching band and choir from West Springfield High School, and the chorus from Fausey School, gave performances of patriotic songs.

Mustafa Thomson, an Army veteran from West Springfield who served as master of ceremonies, said Memorial Day is a good time for “setting aside the noise and distractions around us, reminding us of what truly matters.”

Amy Taylor, right, directs members of the West Side Choir, from left, Grace Antico, Ace Rivard and Damian Hicks, singing “America the Beautiful.”
Reminder Publishing photo by Michael Ballway

He said remembrance is just the start, however. He encouraged attendees to visit a veteran’s grave and silently reflect on the sacrifice that person made, and to listen to veterans’ stories about the comrades they lost in war.

Thompson also asked attendees to remember not only those who died in battle, but also those who succumbed to their “invisible wounds” to mental health after they returned to civilian life.

He said it’s important to check in with veterans and reach out to them emotionally.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts