HARVARD -- Veterans Services Agent Dennis M. Lyddy has retired from the post he's held for six years. The Veterans Day program this year at the Old Library was his last.
But Lyddy said he plans to continue with the work to which he's become committed, helping combat veterans and other military men and women obtain benefits and services they need and deserve.
"There's so much work to be done," he said, especially as each "wave" of troops returns home from current conflicts overseas.
While "ceremonies like this" are important, it's not enough, he said. "It's our job to educate, to be assertive ... as veterans, we've got to stand up more, make our feelings known," he said.
Honors aside, combat veterans in particular must speak for themselves and others, raising issues and articulating needs "for us and those to come," Lyddy said.
Signaling a mood shift, Lyddy asked that veterans from each combat era represented in the room stand to be recognized, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, the last banner in the pantheon. With Lyddy among the final group, there were representatives from each one.
One man stood for two "living veterans" of WWII who were not there but should be recognized, he said, former longtime residents who have moved out of town: Robert Campbell, who flew B-24's, and Franklin Heinz, now 94, who served in the South Pacific.
Why did I do that?" Lyddy asked, when the veterans had settled into their chairs again. "You should get to know these veterans," he said. "They are cornerstones of what we do and they carry on our legacy."
With new regulations and added paperwork, that aspect of the job is more challenging these days, he said, and Harvard needs a full-time Veterans Agent to handle it. But for him, it's time to move on. He hopes his successor will be assigned more hours, he said.
"This town is exceptional ... with veterans," Lyddy said, and does a "wonderful job supporting what we do." But he's better at "getting stories out of veterans so they can get benefits" than dealing with bureaucratic red tape, he said.
Lyddy likes telling veterans' stories, too, collecting "oral history" for future generations. One he shared was about a road not taken. A WWII veteran told of a sergeant setting two documents in front of him when his term of service was up: Reenlistment papers he could sign and up his rank or discharge papers. He signed the latter in January 1946.
Another story was about Staff Sgt. James Walsh, a veteran of Korea, who came back on a troop ship in 1952 to a "collective grunt" instead of a riotous welcome. But three civilians were waiting at the dock, two pretty women and a man, another soldier's parents and his sweetheart. It was a heartwarming scene, hugs and kisses and "not a dry eye," Lyddy said.
Walsh had welcome home plans of his own, hatched aboard ship. He'd stop at the local school to get his brother then go home to surprise his parents. But when he left Camp Sheridan, there they were, waiting at the gate. "There wasn't a dry eye..." Lyddy said again.
Another WWII veteran who drove a tank during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, wrote of recurring nightmares, startling at loud noises on the job, traumatic after-effects that would continue for years, perhaps for a lifetime, "as anyone who's been in combat knows," Lyddy said. "We survived and we have an obligation to tell our stories."
Although his role in Harvard would end Nov. 15, Lyddy said he enjoyed working in town, loves its residents and others he's worked with, including Town Hall staff, town officials and "especially my veterans."
They've all helped him grow, he said, "and more importantly ... helped me heal, as a combat veteran."
Selectman Ron Ricci, who is a Navy veteran and Naval Academy alumnus, presented Lyddy with a framed plaque, thanking him on behalf of the town for serving its veterans so well. Not only did Lyddy provide help to town veterans when needed, he also made sure that those who lost their lives were remembered, Ricci said. "We wish you well."
Steven Cronin, a retired Army major who, with his wife, Nancy, a major in the Army reserves, received the Veteran of the Year award at the Nov. 11 ceremony, said Lyddy will be missed.
"You have raised the bar for the Veterans Agent in this town," he said.
Nancy Cronin said Lyddy's family, who came to share his "moment" in the spotlight, deserved the town's gratitude, too. "They (veterans agents) do a lot, but they don't do it alone," she said, noting that spouses and other family members back them up.
She presented Lyddy's wife Kelly with a flowering plant, hoping she'd "think of us when you water it."
She, too, will be missed, Cronin said. "Dennis gets his strength from you, I know."