'Without them, we would not exist': Pittsfield honors the fallen on Memorial Day

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PITTSFIELD — John Harding learned in the Vietnam War that the worst thing to lose is your dignity.

"You people have helped in the restoration of that feeling," Harding told the crowd at the Memorial Day ceremony in Pittsfield Cemetery on Monday.

Harding, a Marine Corps veteran and Berkshire County native, described himself as "sort of born with a microphone in my mouth."

But scanning over the dozens of people gathered to honor the fallen, Harding had trouble putting his feelings into words.

"Seeing the people who support us is beyond something that we Vietnam vets would have loved to have seen," Harding said. "All war vets would be proud of this day."

Prior to the ceremony, scores of local residents lined the streets for the city's annual Memorial Day Parade on Monday morning.

Representatives from organizations like Soldier On, Pittsfield American Legion Post 68 and the Pittsfield High School Marching Band started the parade at City Hall, marched down North Street to Wahconah Street, ending at the Pittsfield Cemetery.

There, a ceremony was held to honor those lost in war, drawing a crowd of more than 100 people.

Harding saluted the families of those who were lost in war, having "endured the anxiety of waiting."

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"Because of our veterans and those that support us, we shall prevail," Harding said. "Without them we would not exist."

Mayor Linda Tyer noted that participants in the day's ceremony ranged from Cub Scouts to some of the community's oldest generation of veterans. "We've all come together today to give thanks and to honor those that we have lost," she said.

Tyer used the occasion to honor Charles White Whittlesey, a native of Pittsfield and recipient of the Medal of Honor, for his actions during World War I. As a major of the 77th division, Whittlesey held his position in Argonne, France, for five days despite being surrounded by enemy forces.

Tyer read a proclamation in honor of Whittlesey, who died in 1921.

"Today, we salute Major Whittlesey's bravery and dedication in the defense of our democracy and our sovereignty and our freedom-loving nations around the world," Tyer said, describing Whittlesey as "an extraordinary person who willingly stepped into harm's way to protect others."

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch said the day was for a "solemn act of gratitude" to the sacrifices made by many, which she said will never be forgotten.

"Out of the many nations of the world, our country has been blessed with a singular opportunity to demonstrate how people of many faiths and heritages can live side by side and enrich one another's lives through friendship and the sharing of our unique traditions," Hirsch said.

Pittsfield's ceremony was just one of several held throughout the Berkshires over the holiday weekend, including parades in North Adams, Adams, Great Barrington, Dalton, Lenox and other towns.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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