Memorial Day strikes a chord for Milford veteran, parade grand marshal

Marc Youngquist is Milford’s Memorial Day Parade grand marshal.

Marc Youngquist is Milford’s Memorial Day Parade grand marshal.

Marc Youngquist /Contributed

MILFORD — For Marc Youngquist, this year’s parade grand marshal, the meaning of Memorial Day changed over the course of his military career.

“For me, it was a typical thing, it was a three-day holiday with a couple of hamburgers, hot dogs and a cookout with the city putting on a parade,” he said. “As the years went on and my service went on, it became more important to me and a more serious definition, that now it wasn’t just a holiday, but remembering those I served with who are no longer here.”

He said he’s honored to be chosen to headline the 2022 Milford Memorial Day Parade, which kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s quite an honor for someone to reach out for me to do this,” said Youngquist. “I’m very honored to do that, and I do like speaking on behalf of the veterans and all of those who have served.”

Youngquist’s military career began before he graduated from Cheshire High School in 1969 when he enlisted in the Marines.

“I do not come from a long line of military people, although my uncle did serve in the Navy during World War II,” he said. “My father was too young for World War I and too old for World War II.”

Still, Youngquist always knew he was going to go into the military.

“I turned 18 in March, enlisted in April and went to training in August,” he said.

After being honorably discharged in July 1973, Youngquist was a police officer in Cheshire from 1974 to 1985, when he retired at the rank of lieutenant. Four years later, he joined the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant unit and after two years transferred to the 143rd Military Police Company, Connecticut Army National Guard.

In 2003 and 2004, he was stationed in Western Baghdad providing security and rebuilding the Iraqi Court and law enforcement system.

“It was a dangerous situation. The company was in over 50 small arms engagements, and another 50 attacks involved in rockets, mortars, grenades, IEDs, that sort of thing, we were in the middle of it,” said Youngquist. “Our soldiers, on an individual level were awesome. They accomplished every mission and task they were given, and they never shook their duties.”

During his time in Baghdad, he met many soldiers from Connecticut and the heroic acts they performed while on duty. When he returned home, he would be asked to speak at different events, and he would run into friends or family of soldiers he served with.

When he would tell them about the heroic things they did, they would tell him that they had never heard those stories. It was a recurring theme for Youngquist, and because of that, he decided to write a book about the 143rd MP Company called The 143rd in Iraq.

“When I went to Baghdad, I was 51, and I came back when I was 53, so I was like the grandfather of the unit,” he said. “I was personally miffed that these awesome troops, people didn’t know what they did, and I wanted people to know what they had done over there.”

Youngquist said he had daybooks that he wrote in regularly when he was in Iraq because he didn’t have someone his age or rank he could confide in.

“I told my clerk to go through my books and type the major events we were involved in. I wasn’t looking for a whole lot of detail and only about two or three sentences,” he said.

The idea was to find the report corresponding with the major events they were involved in.

“I thought I would get 100 pages, but it turned out to 444 pages,” he said.

Reflecting on this year’s Memorial Day, Youngquist noted that his changing attitude about the meaning of the holiday is similar to his changing feelings about the nation’s anthem.

When he was a child, Youngquist said he heard the Star Spangled Banner regularly before every baseball game, and when he was about 6 years old, he said he thought “play ball” were the last two words of the Star Spangled Banner.

“I know that’s not true, but that’s how a 6-year-old thinks,” he said. “Now the Star Spangled Banner, just like Memorial Day, hits a chord with me. I know what Memorial Day is like because I’ve lost friends that should have had a much longer life.”