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Memorial Day Parade draws crowds in Reiffton; Berks veterans groups host services in Reading honoring those who died fighting for freedom

Reading Eagle - 5/28/2024

Corri Speakman and her son Max, 6, claimed a section of sidewalk along the Exeter Township Memorial Day Parade route on the same Reiffton street corner that as a youngster she took in the parade with her grandmother.

Max Speakman, 6, left, and his mom Corri watch the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township with friends Stepahnie Anderson and Logan, 2, and Makenzie, 4. Corri Speakman recalls watching the parade as a child with her grandmother at the same spot. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

Monday was a day of remembrance, especially for those service members who made the ultimate sacrifice during the nation’s armed conflicts. As the holiday was originally conceived, people are encouraged to accomplish this by placing flowers on graves of the war dead or turning out for public Memorial Day services and parades.

For Speakman, the annual Exeter Township Memorial Day Parade is also a way to continue a family tradition and, as Max put it, honor her grandmother.

“I’ve been bringing him here since he was a baby,” said Speakman, an Exeter School High School graduate who still resides in Exeter Township. “Even though my grandmother’s not with us we have to sit in her spot.”

The Exeter Township Fire Company winds up 37th Street during the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

They were joined by fellow Exeter School District teacher Stephanie Anderson and her children, Makenzie, 4, and Logan, 2, also of Exeter. The kids were given reusable shopping bags to collect all of the candy tossed by people in the procession.

Despite the threat of thunderstorms that canceled some local parades, the procession, which stepped out at 9 a.m. from the parking lot of Exeter High School, took place under bright sunshine.

The Exeter Township High School marching band performs during the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

The procession, led by the Exeter High School marching band, pivoted left from Grant Street onto 36th Street—where Speakman and Anderson set up folding chairs—before crossing Perkiomen Avenue on its way to Forest Hills Memorial Park. A Memorial Day Service began in the cemetery immediately after the parade concluded.

Seeing his dad Brian Rhein and dog Truckie marching with the Exeter Township Fire Department, 3-year-old Oakley couldn’t help but run out and give his dad and dog a hug during the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

The 30-minute procession was dominated by emergency vehicles. Exeter Township Fire Department alone entered at least 15 vehicles, from aerial ladder trucks that filled a quarter of a block to an ATV that could fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

The Reiffton 1930 Mack Type 70 fire truck was one of the highlights during the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

A former Reiffton fire chief and Exeter Township fire marshal, Terry L. Francis, rode in a vintage 1930 Mack Type 70 firetruck.

Former Exeter Fire Chief Robert Jordan, the parade grand marshal, waves from a fire truck during the Memorial Day parade on Monday in Exeter Township. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

Members of the fire department marched in formation in dress uniforms. The fire department held an open house at its Reiffton station following the service in Forest Hills.

Apparatus of three nearby fire companies, Mount Penn, Lower Alsace and Oley, stretched the procession.

Exeter Township police were joined by their counterparts from the Mount Penn-based Central Berks Regional Police Department.

In one of the breaks in the procession of emergency vehicles, Antietam High School Marching Band played John Phillip Sousa’s “Three Cheers for the Red White & Blue” as it turned the corner at Grant and 36th.

There was also a float carrying 20 members of Crestview Swimming Pool with members of the swim club on foot.

Bracketing the fire apparatus were members of scouting organizations. Near the front of the parade, members of four Girl Scout troops processed in tandem while tossing candy to spectators.

At the tail end, as if to punctuate the meaning of the day, members of Boy Scout Troop 377 from Stony Creek Mills distributed bundles of American flags on sticks.

Elsewhere in Berks, the threat of rain caused guest speaker Jay Ostrich, the newly appointed director of the Berks County Veterans Affairs, to toss his prepared speech during the Memorial Day Service in Charles Evans Cemetery in north Reading.

Col. Jay Ostrich of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and the Director of the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs speaks Monday during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Grand Army of the Republic monument in Charles Evans Cemetery. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

The service was the second of two services in the city hosted Monday morning by the organizations of the Combined Veterans Council of Berks County. The first service was in City Park. Fewer than 20 people attended either service.

A Memorial Day Service was held on Monday at Veterans Grove in City Park. (BILL UHRICHREADINGEAGLE)

Improvising is something every member of the military services is trained to do, said Ostrich, a Governor Mifflin High School graduate who is a colonel in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

A veteran of Iraqi Freedom and Iraqi Enduring Freedom, Ostrich spoke on what he sees as troubling signs that people in this country take their freedom for granted: indifference to losing 22 veterans a day by suicide, the only 1% of the U.S. population serving in the armed forced, and dismal turnout in the recent primary election.

He talked about the origins of New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die.”

The phrase was adopted from a letter written by Gen. John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War, on July 31, 1809.

Nearing the end of his life, Stark declined the invitation to an anniversary reunion of the pivotal Battle of Bennington, but he sent his toast by letter, concluding with, “Live Free or Die.”

“What I truly believe he tried to tell his troops, “Ostrich said, “was that he wasn’t afraid to die. What he was afraid of was to live in a nation that wasn’t worth dying for.

“And so we need to ask ourselves as Americans this morning and every single day, are we living a life that is worthy of the 1.1 million Americans who laid down their lives?”

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