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Hands go to hearts as Winchester celebrates Memorial Day

VFW Post 3719 Commander Festus McDonough and Post Auxiliary President Marge Labedz place a wreath during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS

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In her winning essay, McCall Middle School student Sophia Zuniga said Memorial Day is important to her “because people fought and lost their lives for us.”

It is also important because her father, Dan Zuniga, was one of those who fought, though fortunately he came home to his family.

McCall Middle School sixth grader Sophia Zuniga receives a $500 check from Post 3719 Quartermaster Bill Carroll as Barbara O’Connell and Dan Zuniga look on. Sophia received the check for her winning entry into the annual Voice of Democracy essay contest. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS

“My dad served as a captain in the United States Marine Corps,” Zuniga said, reading her essay before a crowd of over 100 gathered in Edward F. O’Connell Memorial Plaza for the Memorial Day ceremony held May 27. “He was on active duty from 2006 to 2009, training in various parts of the United States before going many times to Iraq, and spending time in Southeast Asia on a Navy ship.”

Zuniga was just one of Winchester’s many veterans who were all remembered Monday during the town’s traditional ceremony, which came together under gray skies and intermittent rain.

“It is awfully good to see so many people here on Memorial Day,” said Barbara O’Connell, who coordinates the event in the plaza named for her husband. “A lot of people have shown up to march in our parade and for the civic exercises.”

Just prior to the ceremony, as dampness turned to drizzle, Town Hall custodian Mike diNanno quickly dried off chairs set out for the town’s dignitaries and veterans, while Mary Sue Stevens paused to snap a photo of plaque honoring Winchester veterans who served.

Hands went to hearts as the Winchester High School band and the Boston Firemen's Band played the National Anthem. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS

“It’s my son,” she said when asked whose name she was after.

Adam Kelligrew White served from 2004-2009, including two years of active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stevens said he came home safely as did most of the current veterans listed on the plaque.

Words to think on, events to remember

In his welcome, VFW Post 3719 Commander Festus McDonough challenged people to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, to be kind and helpful to neighbors — to live a life worthy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

“As you go about the rest of your day, remember them and celebrate them,” he said. “We have been fortunate that such great heroes existed.”

Select Board Chair Michelle Prior reflected on her time in the Peace Corps and “how the privilege of living in peace can obscure the fact that we're not very far removed from the sacrifices made by those in our armed forces.”

The morning also included music from the Winchester High School Band, bagpiper retired Fire Chief Rick Tustin along with the reading of the Governor’s Proclamation, which gave a brief history of Memorial Day.

Major Tom Allen, far left, presents Winchester High School senior Bo Spignesi with a four year scholarship to Wake Forest University during Monday's Memorial Day Ceremonies while his family looks on proudly. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS 

The traditional ceremony did have one twist when Winchester High School senior Robert Bo Spignesi III was honored by Major Tom Allen with a four year ROTC scholarship to Wake Forest University, courtesy of the United States Army.

“We never did this before,” said O’Connell. “It’s a wonderful honor and I’m glad we knew about it.”

Zuniga also reminded people that they should make an effort all year long to think about those who died fighting for their country.

“Memorial Day is just one day … I’m so proud of my dad and everyone who has served for this country,” she said.

Scouts snapped to attention during the playing of the National Anthem at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS

Dad Dan Zuniga, who stood behind his daughter as she read her essay, said he was just as proud of her.

“She’s amazing,” he said.

VFW Post Quartermaster Bill Carroll, who handed Zuniga a check for $500 for her winning essay, also expressed his admiration.

“I need to let you know there wasn't any question about your essay when it came in before the committee over who was going to win this award this year,” he said.

Carroll also took a minute to honor Linda Pickering, who has run the Voice of Democracy essay contest at the middle school for decades.

“Linda will retire this year,” he said. “And the VFW wanted to present Linda with a citation.”

He said the citation simply offers the Post’s appreciation to Pickering for her invaluable assistance and dedication to the success of the annual essay contest.

“We are forever grateful for your limitless supportive teaching of the true meaning of Memorial Day,” he read.

Bagpipers at attention during Monday’s downtown Memorial Day ceremonies. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS STEVENS

The ceremony ended with the National Anthem played by the Winchester High School Band and the Boston Firemen’s Band and an invitation by Post Auxiliary President Marge Labedz to everyone to stop by Post 3719 for refreshments and catching up.

“And please remember to support our troops and their families,” she added. “God bless America and thank you all again for being here.”

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