Gov. Maura Healey, families, mark Memorial Day at Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam

AGAWAM — As bagpiper Susan Blanchette walked through orderly rows of bright white headstones, gleaming Monday in the sun, a family stopped her.

Blanchette had come to the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery to play at the graves of two Marines.

But as she walked with her drummer daughter, Elizabeth, members of the Wynn family had a request.

Would Blanchette play her bagpipes in memory of James M. Wynn, asked that man’s sister, Christine Wynn Maloney, and in memory of his brother, Robert Wynn, an Army National Guard veteran buried nearby.

Would they “pipe them out?” asked Maloney.

The answer was of course yes. She played “Scotland the Brave” over the grave of James M. Wynn, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era who lived in Westfield.

After the sound of the pipes faded into the hot afternoon, the family gathered around. “Thank you. Thank you so much,” Maloney said.

Blanchette, who lives in Southwick, also played at the graves of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, killed in 2015 in a deadly attack on a reserve training center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

And she played at the grave of Matthew J. Vieu, another Marine veteran from Chicopee who served two tours of Iraq, but came home with post-traumatic stress disorder and died by suicide in 2015.

Gov. Healey’s pledge

The cemetery, opened in 2000, now holds 14,000 graves, cremated remains and memorial markers.

“It’s what small towns do,” Agawam Mayor William Sapelli said earlier Monday in his Memorial Day address at Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

He described the busy day of parades and commemorations and of the banners hung out on Main Street.

Observances of the nation’s 155th Memorial Day drew Gov. Maura T. Healey; state Sen John C. Velis, D-Westfield; State Rep. Nicholas A. Boldyga, R-Southwick; Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard.

Healey spoke with admiration of those who maintain the cemetery.

“Thank you for your loving stewardship of hallowed ground,” she said.

And she spoke of her administration’s commitment to veterans.

Gov. Maura T. Healey receives the American flag from a member of the Base Honor Guard at at Westover Air Reserve Base during the Memorial Day ceremony held at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican)

“We believe that military service is the highest form of service,” she said.

Healey, in her first Memorial Day as governor, met with individual veterans after the ceremony, including 99-year-old Miriam Silverman of Springfield, a Navy veteran of World War II.

Velis, also a major in the Army reserves, recalled his tours of Afghanistan. Just as service members boarded planes to leave Afghanistan at the end of their tours, they paused in front of a mural dedicated to the fallen in that war.

Velis said the mural exhorted returning veterans to “Live lives worthy of their sacrifice.”

He told of a platoon he worked with that lost three men in April 2013. The next day, the platoon was to be Velis’ security detail for a mission to meet with local Afghani leaders.

He tried to tell them to scrap the mission.

“To a man they said ‘No sir, We’re going.”

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