‘We honor those who have given that sacrifice’
Twenty-one cannon shots fired from the historic USS Constitution rang out over the Little Mystic Channel for Memorial Day as families, veterans and travelers from all over joined in a ceremony to honor Navy sailors lost.
"This is an emotional time, but it's an honor," Sharon Toner, a Gold Star family member, said aboard the ship on the windy afternoon. "… It's an incredible, moving experience to be here."
Toner's stepson, Silver Star-recipient Lt. j.g. Francis Toner IV, sacrificed his life for a fellow officer in Afghanistan in March 2009. This Memorial Day was her first traveling from
Narragansett, Rhode Island to attend the Constitution's ceremony and fire one of the cannons in his honor.
The ship and museum offered free admission to the public for the holiday — when they first read a list of Navy sailors who died on duty to a still and silent crowd before firing the 21-gun salute.
"The Constitution, like other warships in the Navy, had its own casualties helping protect our freedoms," said Command Senior Chief Seth Miles. "So today here, we honor those who have given that sacrifice to protect our freedom."
Around this time, Miles said, people regularly express appreciation "that we continue to remember those who have paid the ultimate price."
Visitors from all over — from a couple hours away to Texas and Italy — came to participate in the ceremony and experience the history of the ship for the holiday.
"Thought we'd come out for just a little knowledge for the girls for Memorial Day since most of our family are military," said Chelsea resident Orlando Velazco, gesturing to the two young daughters urging him to explore below deck. "There's a lot for them to learn."
The museum moved a poppy garden — a symbol of remembrance — made by visitors leading up to Memorial Day onto the ship Monday and featured activities for the many families in attendance.
"The staff, everyone here is amazing," said Toner. "… There's a lot of significance being here on this day."