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The Ultimate Sacrifice: West Hartford Honors the Fallen in Memorial Day Ceremony

Mike Cabrey, keynote speaker at the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford community honored the true meaning of Memorial Day and those who have fallen in a ceremony following the parade. 

Among those attending the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony was WWII veteran Ben Cooper, who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Bridget Bronsdon. Photos by Ronni Newton 

As the weather warms, the school year winds down, and the anticipation of summer draws near, communities across the country enjoy a three-day weekend. While some might consider it a long weekend of barbecues, picnics, and a day off of work, the West Hartford community gathered in the Town Hall on Monday to pay homage to the greater meaning of Memorial Day, one of sacrifice, honor, and remembrance. 

Following the century-long Memorial Day parade tradition, featuring West Hartford students, sports teams, community organizations, fire and police units, and more, a smaller crowd of community members, leaders and veterans gathered to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

Heidi-Anne Mooney, who is serving her third year as Post Commander of the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 began the ceremony by eulogizing the true meaning of Memorial Day.

“It is a day to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who have died and given the ultimate price to their country, Mooney said. “Memorial Day should be a time to reflect on the price of freedom and what it means to live up to the values those who died fought for, values such as freedom of speech, or to vote, or the right to an education regardless of gender, religion or skin color. Memorial Day is also a day to thank those families who have an empty chair during each holiday, at graduation, or cookouts because they lost a loved one whose ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms has left that empty chair and a hole in their hearts,” she said.

American Legion Post 96 Commander Heidi-Anne Mooney. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

To properly capture the essence of the day, Mooney spoke of one of the first Connecticut veterans, Nathan Hale of Coventry, who gave his life for the creation of the country. Hale, who fought in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was put to death for spying on the British in America’s first organized intelligence service. 

Mooney noted that with such rich history, comes a great responsibility to honor those who came before us and those who are still serving today. 

“Often, this weekend makes Americans think of barbecues, or that school is almost out, or that summer vacations are coming up, but today, at 3 p.m. [the National Moment of Remembrance, as established by an act of Congress in 2000, calling for a moment of silence at that time], I want you to think of Nathan Hale and all the other men and women who gave their lives for the cause of freedom,” Mooney said. 

Lt. Colonel Sean Nolan of the 436th Transportation Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve was then welcomed for the invocation. 

Nolan called to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives and asked to bring peace and comfort not just to those who have fallen, but to the family members who have lost loved ones. 

Conard student Delia Daqnarie sings the National Anthem. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Following a touching rendition of the National Anthem sung by Conard student Delia Canarie, West Hartford Memorial Day Grand Marshal, Colonel Michael Cabrey (retired) was welcomed to the podium. 

Cabrey, a retired U.S. Army Colonel with 30 years of service and an extensive military history, also served as the Dean of Administration in the College of International Security Affairs, as the Academic Program Manager/Senior Advisor to the Provost of National Defense University, and has served in various artillery positions, which includes leading over 750 soldiers in direct combat operations in Iraq. 

Mike Cabrey, keynote speaker at the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

With such experience and history came a greater and more personal understanding of Memorial Day for Cabrey. 

“As a battalion commander in Iraq, I did lose soldiers in my unit and it was there that Memorial Day became so ingrained in me and it was more than just the beginning of summer,” he said. 

Cabrey went on to explain the memorial ceremony held in the military for fallen soldiers. As part of military tradition, those serving would hold a service in their camps to “help bring closure to the fellow members in the unit.” A service would also be held at home for family members to pay their final respects, he said. 

“In each instance, members of that service member’s chain of command stand up in front of the gathering and speak to the character, accomplishment and comradery of the fallen member. It is a time to remember the good,” he said. 

While Cabrey emphasized the importance of remembering the good, he also reflected upon the true essence of the holiday. “Veterans Day is to thank them for their service, Memorial Day is to recognize the price some paid in that service,” he said. 

After touching personal accounts, Conard’s Zander Bos serenaded guests with a moving violin tribute of “America the Beautiful.” 

Zander Bos provide a patriotic violin tribute. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

State Sen. Derek Slap was next to take the podium and challenged listeners to consider all that veterans have given and what the public can do to give back. 

“I read that about every three generations people start to forget about things that have happened in our history,” he said. Consequently, Sen. Slap emphasized how truly essential it is to honor those who have fought and challenged listeners to consider what they can do to pay tribute to and remember veterans. 

State Rep. Kate Farrar echoed similar statements of remembrance and also paid homage to the inception of the holiday. Farrar noted that Memorial Day was first coined as “Decoration Day” because of a historic tradition in which women gathered to decorate the gravestones of their fallen husbands in an effort to remember and honor their lives. 

As a result of these women, “this day became such a tradition in communities across our country. That’s why when we remember, we don’t just remember the individuals who sacrificed so much, but we remember those family members,” she said. “I really take with me, and I know all of us take with us today, this solemn commitment to remember,” she finished. 

State Sen. Derek Slap (right) and state Rep. Kate Farrar (left) speak at the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The last of the speakers, Mayor Shari Cantor, offered a final moment of gratitude and reflection. 

“This is not a day off from work and not a day of barbecues and picnics, it’s a solemn occasion and it reminds us of the sacrifices made by service men and women who put their lives on the line for the freedoms that we hold so dear. It’s a day to reflect on the true meaning of patriotism – and that means different things to everybody, there is not one definition – and to pay tribute to the people and the families who gave it their all,” she said. 

Mayor Shari Cantor speaks at the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The ultimate sacrifice, one of courage and selflessness, was a theme revered by many of West Hartford’s leaders as they graciously honored the lives and legacy of those who have fallen. 

The closing of the ceremony, which included the placement of the memorial wreath and the playing of TAPS by Bos, brought the service to an end while sentiments of honor, remembrance, and respect remained.

Jacob Mooney places the memorial wreath. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Memorial wreath. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Zander Bos sounds TAPS. West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Mayor Shari Cantor speaks at the West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Memorial Day Ceremony. May 27, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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Bridget Bronsdon

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