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Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia speaks on the importance of Memorial Day.
Reminder Publishing photos by Trent Levakis.

HOLYOKE — The War Memorial Building was once again the site for the city of Holyoke’s Memorial Day ceremony where this year, on top of remembering those who have lost their lives in service, the city honored the memory of Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class Merle Hillman, a native of Holyoke, who died in the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Hillman’s remains were long unidentified until last year before returning home for burial in Holyoke back in January. Hillman’s nephew, Sgt. Brendan Quinn spoke during the ceremony about his uncle’s legacy and what it has meant for him and the family to have been able to lay him to rest in his hometown.

“He was my first hero. As I got older, all I could think about was ‘hey, it’s almost time for me to go to serve as well,’” Quinn said. “Uncle Merle is home, in the same plot as my grandfather. They are finally back together.”

Quinn said his grandfather struggled with the loss of his younger brother and would often not open up a lot to the family about it. Hillman being returned and laid to rest in his hometown has given the family closure.

“Uncle Merle, you made the ultimate sacrifice for your country. You were certainly the inspiration for my service. We were all there to welcome you home and accompany you to your final resting place. Welcome home Uncle Merle, thank you for your service,” Quinn said.

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia thanked the Holyoke Patriotic Committee for organizing the observance once again and said it was always a special privilege to come to an event like this that brings neighbors together.

“As mayor of Holyoke, I’m constantly reminded of the principles of democracy for which they fought: the freedom to vote, to choose our own leaders, the freedom to express our beliefs without fear, the freedom to assemble and the ability to self-govern ourselves,” Garcia said. “But although we can’t repay that debt, we can honor their sacrifice by committing to the causes that they died defending. Democracy, liberty and justice for everybody.”

City Council President Tessa Murphy-Romboletti spoke about the importance of remembering those lost on Memorial Day.

“Today we gather to honor and remember the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Murphy-Romboletti. “On this Memorial Day we pause from our busy lives to recognize the gravity of the sacrifice of these service members. Each name, each story represents a life dedicated to the ideals of liberty and justice. They left behind families, friends and futures and it is our duty to ensure that their legacy is never forgotten.”

State Rep. Patricia Duffy (D-Holyoke) spoke about a recently put forward piece of legislation from the governor’s office that would fortify many benefits services and resources for veterans in the state. She and state Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) — a partnership that she noted is often utilized by the two in order to better represent the region — both worked on the bill.

Duffy also noted the 80th anniversary of D-Day was upcoming and had her reflecting on her own family’s history in service and how those who paid the ultimate sacrifice should always be honored and remembered.

“Those World War II vets, those lucky enough to live out their lives, there’s fewer and fewer of them. They are such a previous resource to us, and I hope if you know a World War 2 vet, make sure you’re sitting down next to them and asking them to tell their stories. Those lessons are invaluable,” Duffy said.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts