Memorial Day holds a place of great honor in Suffield, in the nation. Many people cherish long memories of the Day: sunny morning parades, marching officials, scouts, leaders, police, fire and rescue departments marching with the high school band, veterans in the honor guard and members of the American Legion waving from open convertibles and timely, respectful attention.
Histories abound of Memorial Day as originating after the Civil War to commemorate those who died in the war. Later, Veterans Day was established to honor all veterans who served our country in war and in peace.
We think of military deaths that have occurred in recent years. These have claimed people whose youth has made their loss all the more painful.
Marine Corporal Stephen Bixler, 20, was killed while on Foot Patrol in Fallujah in 2006. Suffield honors him at the annual Stephen Bixler Memorial Picnic. His photograph greets patrons of the Suffield Post Office named in his honor, as is the Stephen Bixler Highway.
US Navy Electronics Technician Dustin Doyon, age 27, died aboard the USS John McCain in a collision in August 2017. He was a runner and Suffield is honoring his memory with The Dustin Doyon Road Race. Many join Dustin’s alma mater of Cathedral High School in Springfield in grieving his loss.
Hundreds of townspeople participated in services for both young service men. Children stood quietly waving flags at roadside to honor their sad return home.
Suffield and its schools have a long history of providing support. During a professional visit many years ago, a Hartford social worker remarked that she relished coming to Suffield because its atmosphere was affirming and positive.
Suffield High School mirrored Suffield supportiveness. A generation ago the town’s population numbered under 10,000 and Suffield High School, now the middle school, was a much smaller building.
Suffield now has a population of 15,725 and its present high school enrolls 800 students. Its spirit of community remains strong, evidenced now as it was then by the frequency of reunions sponsored by many high school classes.
Affirmation and compassion characterize Suffield in many different ways. Townspeople celebrated Emily Sweeney’s participation in the Olympics, for example. In person or via television they moaned in alarm when her luge left the track. But friends celebrated Emily’s spirit with a party, and the Little League invited her to throw out the first ball of the season.
In sorrow, townspeople finding grief and loss too much to bear may request help from their churches, their schools, and the Emergency Aid Association.