In the wake of 9-11 and with American soldiers still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Franklin County residents said this Memorial Day is a bit more poignant than in years past.

“Memorial Day is about remembering those who have given their lives so we can all be free,” said Donald Simoneau, chaplain for the Maine American Legion and a Vietnam-era veteran. “So many boys went over there, but they didn’t come home.”

He said since Sept. 11, he has noticed a resurgence of patriotism and support for America’s military, pointing out that this year’s Memorial Day festivities in the Jay/Livermore Falls area drew a larger crowd than ever. It makes him proud, he said.

“Between periods of war, we tend to forget,” he said solemnly. “9-11 brought that back into focus. You see the people rallying together now. Patriotism is back.”

On Monday, many area school children disproved the myth that America’s youth consider Memorial Day just another day off from school. Lining parade routes, waving Old Glory and cheering for their fathers and mothers who marched in parades, students talked about what the holiday symbolized to them.

“We are remembering all the people who served in the war and died for us,” said 13-year-old Sarah Hallman of Farmington, who was at the Farmington parade to watch her father and grandfather get in step. “I take time during this day to think about those soldiers, it’s not just a day off from school.”

Meanwhile, her friend 14-year-old Leeah Franklin of Temple said the holiday is one of mixed emotions pointing out that it is both a day to joyfully celebrate and regretfully remember. “It’s sad to think that people died for our country, but it’s good that we take time to remember them,” she said.

For 16-year-old Kaitlyn Hall, Memorial Day means tying on her American flag bandanna, stretching her vocal cords and singing about “America the Beautiful.” Every year (but one) since she was 6, Hall has been performing the song in Farmington’s annual Memorial Day services.

“It’s a family thing,” she said about the day, reeling off names from a long list of family members who have served, or are serving. But there is more.

“It’s also a day to thank the people who do things for our country, everyday people who do small things,” she said, “like work as police or take time to volunteer.”

The holiday is one of her favorites, Hall said, because it truly comes from the heart. “It’s a day of real respect,” she said strongly. “It’s not just one of those candy throwing holidays- this one has real meaning.”

For the 8-and-under crowd in Franklin County, Memorial Day is still about running into the streets to pick up pieces of candy thrown from floats, staring in awe at the bright lights on the police cruiser and covering tiny ears when the firetruck goes by blaring its horn.

“I like going to parades,” said a wide-eyed Alyssa Ladd, 6, and of Jay. “My favorite part is that they sometimes give out candy.”

Despite not understanding the complexities of what has been won and lost in the nation’s quest for freedom, Ladd does know one thing for sure. When asked why she is dressed to the hilt in red, white and blue, she stops flourishing her flag for a second, and beaming, admits, “It just looks good.”

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