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Parade tradition continues in Vergennes

A SAILOR STANDS with a wreath of flowers at the Monument on the Vergennes City Green during a ceremony at the conclusion of the 2022 Vergennes Memorial Day Parade. Independent file photo

VERGENNES — When the Memorial Parade in Vergennes steps off at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 29, the parade route will once again be filled with thousands of people coming to experience a tradition spanning more than 60 years. There will be floats, bands, antique tractors, horses and all of the festivities that are long associated with this being the largest Memorial Day parade in the state of Vermont. 

While the event is celebratory in nature, there is a solemn side to it, as Memorial Day is to honor all those who have lost their lives in service to our country. At the conclusion of the parade, a Memorial Day remembrance will be held at the bandstand in the green. 

Returning to the pre-COVID tradition, there will be music, presentation of a wreath, the playing of TAPS, a gun volley, and sharing of why Memorial Day is honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives so that our nation might be free. Vergennes Legion Post 14 has designated Karlene Devine as the  2023 Parade Marshal, and the 2023 Guest Speaker is Col. Randy Gates. Both will be present in the parade and at the bandstand ceremonies.

Col. Gates grew up in Manchester, N.H., attended Keene State College and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1982 following his graduation from college. He served as a combat engineer and was stationed in the former West Germany until late 1988. Shortly after he came off active duty, Gates hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in six months.

He joined the Reserve Engineer Company in 1989 and transferred to the 920th Engineer Battalion and earned the rank of Staff Sergeant in 1991. In early 1992, he was accepted into Officer’s Candidate School and received his commission in August 1993. Lt. Gates was assigned to the 579th Engineer Battalion in various positions and moved to Vermont in 2001 to take his first command. He took up his second command of the 131st Engineer Company in the Vermont National Guard in February 2001 and was deployed to Afghanistan in September 2003 and again in October 2010. This time he was a staff officer in the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and worked with NATO partners coming to Afghanistan. After returning home he held several staff positions including the Director of the Office of Military Support, which coordinated all interagency support for both state and federal partners.

In October 2015 Gates took command of the 15th Civil Support Team, a Nuclear/Biological and Chemical response team. He was in command until July 2018 and then was reassigned as the Director of Military Support again until his retirement in November 2021. He was promoted to colonel in July 2019. As the Director of Military support during the COVID-19 pandemic, Col. Gates was in charge of the coordination of all military assistance to the Department of Health and to Vermont Emergency Management within the Department of Public Safety.

In November 2020, the Vermont National Guard adjutant general asked Col. Gates to stay on another year past the mandatory removal date at age 60. Gates finished his last year leading the Guard’s COVID response. 

During his 38-year Army career, with 11 enlisted and 27 years as a commissioned officer, Gates received awards including the Legion of Merit, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, four Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Five Army Commendation Medals, and four Army Achievement Medals.

In March 2022, Col. Gates completed his second through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, three decades after his first hike. Today the Ferrisburgh resident is active in Boy Scout Troop 538 in Vergennes and serves as an assistant Scoutmaster.

Parade Marshal Karlene Devine grew up in a family with military service. Both of her parents, Bernice and Karl, were World War II veterans. Typical of that generation, neither spoke much of their wartime experiences. Devine’s mother was a nurse with an evac hospital and served for 36 months in the European theater. Her father was an infantryman serving in Europe and retired from the Vermont National Guard (Vergennes). Her father provided her example of community service and her mother provided the example for a career as a nurse.

PARADE MARSHAL KARLENE DEVINE

Devine earned her nursing program diploma at the Mary Hitchcock Hospital School of Nursing and became a nurse practitioner after completing a certificate program at the University of Vermont and attained a Bachelor’s in Nursing from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn.

In more than 45 years working as a nurse, Devine spent 20 years as a flight nurse with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. In 1979, she changed jobs and was seeking additional work when a co-worker introduced her to the Air Force Reserves Nurse Corps unit in which he served. It offered an opportunity for additional nursing skills, traveling and working with other professional healthcare workers in a way she wasn’t receiving from her civilian work. In her civilian career path, Devine had worked medical critical care, visiting nurse and home health, adult nurse practitioner in a community setting and occupational health and ending her career on staff at a Vergennes Residential Care Home.

Serving in the Reserves allowed Devine opportunities to travel and train in Korea, Alaska, Germany and several state-side bases. Applying her nursing skills to provide care within a cargo aircraft was challenged by the noisy environment, effect of aircraft pressure changes on the patients and crew, crossing timelines, irregular sleep breaks and facilitating teamwork between air crew and medical crew.

Karlene Devine said she is grateful for the opportunities afforded her from her Air Force affiliation.

“I have forever friends all over New England,” she said. “I have seen parts of the world that were beyond my reach. I received leadership training that served me in my civilian capacities. I am a member of the American Legion because of my military service, which has extended the camaraderie and benefits to make me appreciate my community even more.”

The American Legion Post 14 Parade Committee reminds all interested parties to register for the parade. Information can be found on the American Legion Post 14 Facebook and on the website of the Vergennes Partnership.

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