PEPPERELL -- Hundreds of residents of Pepperell and surrounding communities gathered around Main Street Monday morning to honor the nation's armed forces and the 43 Pepperell residents who have died in service to their country.

In a ceremony at the Pepperell Community Church following a parade through the center of town, officials lauded the sacrifices made by members of the military.

"These brave souls died in battle for us. Many more from other states, cities, towns and even other countries made the same ultimate sacrifice. Today is a solemn day, but also a day to give thanks. Today is a day to celebrate our country, America, the greatest country on Earth," said selectmen Chairman Michael Green.

Green honored Pepperell's veterans by reading aloud the names of all 43 Pepperell servicemen who were killed in combat, from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War.

"It's an honor to represent a town that comes out in such numbers to remember those who sacrificed so much for us," Green said.

State Rep. Sheila Harrington celebrated the good work and honorable intentions of the military throughout the history of the United States.

"Over the history of our nation, pretty much every great mission which our military has undertaken was in some measure to bring peace on Earth or goodwill to men," Harrington said.

State Sen. Eileen Donoghue urged those in attendance to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day weekend.

"Those 43 people since the birth of nation who have answered the call to make sure that freedom and justice prevails in this country, they've given us a tremendous gift, that is never adequate to just say thank you," Donoghue said.

A parade featuring the town's veterans and active service members, children in the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and performers from the North Middlesex Regional High School and Nissitissit Middle School marching bands wound its way from the VFW, through Railroad Square and down to Town Hall. In addition to the Pepperell Community Church, stops were made at St. Joseph's Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial, the Main Street Bridge, Walton Cemetery and Woodlawn Cemetery.

Navy veteran Thomas Paradis, who now lives in Fitchburg, served in the Vietnam War from 1971 to 1975. He said he has marched in Pepperell's Memorial Day parade for the last 40 years.

"I believe it's important to remember our fallen veterans who came before us. It's a solemn day, but it's an honor to be in the parade. We get a lot of support from the town and the elected officials," Paradis said.

Others lined the streets throughout the parade, and many said they had made the ceremony a yearly tradition.

"I think it's very important to honor the people who've served for our country," said Pepperell resident Chuck Walkovich, who watched the parade from outside Town Hall.

"The VFW does a great job with the memorial services, and the scouts, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, place flags at every individual grave. It's an important way to remember those who have served," he added.

Larry Lennon, a Pepperell native who now lives in Rindge, N.H., has come to the parade every year for the last 30 years to watch his brother, Air Force Sgt. John Lennon, march.

With Fort Devens so close to Pepperell, Larry Lennon said, the community was always particularly supportive of the military when he was growing up.

"I don't think we'd have days like this if it wasn't for the people who gave their lives for us," he said.

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