PITTSFIELD -- Air Force veteran Ed McHugh, born and raised in Pittsfield, has attended the city's Memorial Day parades for as long as he can remember.
"I see more and more people every year, which is nice," he said as people of all ages lined the route, from Pittsfield City Hall, down North Street on the way to a ceremony at Pittsfield Cemetery.
Clapping, cheering and waving the marchers forward, many also leaned out from sidewalks, storefronts and stoops to snap photos and make videos with digital cameras and smartphones.
There was something new for McHugh this year as he held a lush red rose in his hand. The rose was given to him by Kathleen Noble of the newly opened flower shop at Nobles Farm Stand on East New Lenox Road.
The shop received 400 red roses donated to them from Californian and Ecuadorian flower farms through an initiative called Memorial Day Flowers 2012. She and her daughter, Christine Noble-Drosehn, handed out pairs of the flowers at the parades in Dalton and Pittsfield, "one to place on the headstone of a loved one, the other to take home in memory."
During Monday's ceremony at the cemetery, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, 60, waxed nostalgic, thinking back to his youth.
"Little boys and girls sat on granite curbs and watched the veterans roll by," said Bianchi.
He described the veterans of his time: white-haired men in heavy wool uniforms -- the few remaining veterans of the Spanish-American War, and World War I-era doughboys dressed in brown tunics.
This year's parade had a youthful look to it, as local high school marching bands, Boy Scout troops, drum corps and color guards and other community members filed in ranks with veterans from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. active duty Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shane D. Willis and his wife Shana, both in their early 30s, marched with the city's Here at Home Committee, the airman toting his American flag-waving children alongside him in a red wagon. He has been in the Air Force for 10 years.
He and Army Spc. Peter Vosburgh, another young serviceman who served as guest speaker for the event, will both be deployed from their hometown of Pittsfield in the coming months.
During the ceremony, they stood solemnly as seven servicemen, most more gray and years-worn than they, silently dropped silk poppy flowers into a memorial urn -- one each for the 110 veterans who died this year as the Rev. John Salatino read their names in a final roll call.
After the ceremony, the cemetery bustled with smiles, handshakes, hugs, laughter, and jovial invitations to afternoon lunches and barbecues.
On Tuesday, Tech. Sgt. Willis and his wife said they will go to a Here at Home Committee meeting to continue their work as military families seeking to help other military families.
"We've noticed more young families in the area and more minorities, too," said Shana Willis.
Tech. Sgt. Willis nodded and said, "We have a friend coming home from Afghanistan this week, and we try to find more people as they step forward, so that they can be recognized too."
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