MILFORD >> Talking about the past isn’t easy for retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Thomas.

The past means talking about friends, and for Thomas, it means remembering the ones he lost, the ones he usually mourns privately.

On Sunday, Thomas, who served as grand marshal for Milford’s Memorial Day Parade, opened his heart to the city during some remarks following the parade. It was the first public Memorial Day event Thomas has participated in since he returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2008. He usually spends Memorial Day by himself.

“But I’m not really alone,” Thomas said. “I spend the day with the ghosts of my friends. And I have to put a lot into the day. Because if I tried to let myself feel the way I do on this one day everyday, I wouldn’t get very much done.”

He reminded people why Memorial Day is recognized: to honor the fellow servicemen who died serving their country. Servicemen like Navy Lt. Jonas Panik, a close friend of Thomas who was killed during the Sept. 11 attack at the Pentagon.

“He’s an amazing man and a very good friend, and we lost him at 26 years old,” Thomas said, before later adding his parade participation was a way to honor his friends. “My friends, who gave so much, deserve this small token on my behalf.”

A New Haven native who also served in Kosovo, Thomas left the Navy in December 2012. During his service, he specialized in counter-terrorism and later served as a senior adviser to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for veterans and military affairs.

Thomas paused at one point and saluted all veterans in attendance during his remarks. He thanked veterans’ families for their support.

“Without you, we could not do what we do,” Thomas said.

Hundreds dotted Milford’s downtown streets for the parade, which included a wall with names of POW and MIA servicemen from Connecticut. The wall was pulled by a truck driven by U.S. Army veteran Emery Linton Sr., who made it. Some of the names have been updated to include a star, signifying they had been returned to their families.

“The people on this wall who haven’t been returned yet, their families still haven’t gotten closure,” Linton said. “They need closure, just like anything else.”

Prior to Thomas’ remarks, Mayor Ben Blake thanked everyone who attended the parade.

“This is a day that we set aside every year, to pay honor and tribute to our fallen heroes, those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Blake said. “Because they did, our nation still stands, our founding principles still shine, and we are able to sit here on this beautiful green.”

Orange also held its parade and ceremonies Sunday. The keynote speaker at High Plains Community Center was Paul M. Tarbox, a veteran of 10 years with the Connecticut Army National Guard who served in Iraq.

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.