Flowers and flags joined the On Time ferry at Memorial Wharf on Friday, as elementary school students marched to the sea to commemorate those who have died in service of their country.

The long-standing ceremony of remembrance occurs on the Friday before Memorial Day, with Edgartown seventh-graders collecting flowers from children in the school’s younger grades to place in the harbor.

Principal John Stevens recalled the march from when he was a student at the Edgartown school. He’s retiring from his position as principal this year.

In step at Tisbury School. — Jeanna Shepard

“We marched to the sea in the 60’s,” Mr. Stevens said. “It’s a long, long standing tradition.”

At 1 p.m., students gathered outside the school, flowers in hand. Eighth-graders, soon to graduate, led the parade, with the seventh-graders serving as bookends. One first-grader broke off a piece of her flower and gave it to a classmate.

“They bring them from home and they all share,” teacher Megan McDonald said. “It’s very sweet.”

Upon arriving at Memorial Wharf, the Edgartown School’s Eagle Band played a rousing rendition of My Country Tis of Thee as students took their positions under the flagpole, the stars and stripes whipping overhead in the wind. Eighth-graders recited the Gettysburg Address, and seventh-graders read the Walt Whitman poem Oh Captain, My Captain.

Caroline Dolby, a seventh-grader at the Edgartown school, and her older sister Ellie gave a tribute to their great-grandfather and former WWII parachuter Ted Morgan.

Chilmark School students at Menemsha. — Albert O. Fischer

“On this particular march to the sea, we are missing an important veteran,” Caroline told her classmates. “Today we miss my great-grandpa Ted.”

Mr. Morgan, a former selectmen and town father, was a fixture at the event in years past. The sisters asked for a moment of silence — not just for Ted, but for all the great men and women who couldn’t be here this Memorial Day.

Town administrator James Hagerty, who has served two active duty tours of service in Iraq as a member of the Marine Corps, then spoke to the students. He asked them to think about soldiers, like 22-year-old David Bettencourt, who in 1967 left his home on Martha’s Vineyard for Vietnam, never to return.

“Never let their memories go to the wayside,” Mr. Hagerty said.

Seventh-graders, dressed in white, then collected flowers from their younger classmates and stood at the wharf’s edge, adding reds, whites, purples and pinks to the sea of blue. A lone American flag joined them, its stars and stripes protected from the tide by peonies, violets and daffodils that were far more than flowers.

A musical sendoff for the flowers. — Albert O. Fischer

“They represent all the soldiers who have passed away,” seventh-grader Clarissa Pinto said. “It’s very meaningful.”

Three schools around the Island participate in March to the Sea ceremonies. At the Chilmark school students take buses to Menemsha Beach and in Vineyard Haven, Tisbury School students walk from the school through town to Owen Park Beach.

Tisbury School first grader Wesley Foster let it be known that he is no Memorial Day rookie.

“Last year I was in kindergarten, and it was my first year marching,” he said. “This is my second year.”

When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Wesley replied, “marching.”

Town administrator James Hagerty who did two tours in Iraq as a marine, speaks to Edgartown School students at Memorial Wharf. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The school’s resident therapy dog, Shelby Jean, joined the students while pulling her dog sister Dorothy in a wicker carriage of sorts, perfectly designed for the parade.

The students wore homemade paper hats, some held musical instruments and all smiled and waved to their families and friends.

Mary Nichols, former home economics teacher at the Tisbury School, held court on a park bench. “This is the retiree bench!” she said. Former assistant kindergarten teacher Cathy Weiss joined her.

“They told me to come down here with you oldies,” she said.

Ms. Nichols’ son and current gym teacher, Kevan Nichols, rushed to set up the sound system at Owen Park. After the students ceremoniously placed flowers in the sea to commemorate veterans, they marched back up the hill to lead the crowd in the national anthem. Afterwards, Dukes County Veteran’s Agent Jo Anne Murphy greeted the crowd.

To end the gathering, music teacher Emily Anderson led everyone in a rousing rendition of America the Beautiful, complete with choreography.

“I love the flowers, the singing, the paying our respects,” said Mary Foster (Wesley’s grandmother). “It is just a great start to the summer season.”

More photos: Tisbury School, Chilmark School, Edgartown School.