SHIRLEY -- A row of handsome, wood-framed plaques, aligned with military precision along a restored entrance wall in the War Memorial Building, honor town residents who died while serving their country in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The names are inscribed behind glass, gold letters, black background.
The memorial wall is a new addition in an old place. Dedicated during a ceremony Wednesday night, it is a fitting tribute that until recently was glaringly absent from a WWI-era building that in 1927 was dedicated to honoring "those heroes from Shirley who gave their lives in all wars," said WWII veteran and WMB Trustee Norman Albert. "But their names were not anywhere in the building," he said.
When the issue came up during recent renovations, the trustees resolved to fix it, but it would likely take time to raise funds for the purpose. Now, it's a mission accomplished, thanks to the generosity of IC Federal Credit Union and a serendipitous encounter with its President and CEO, Tony Emerson.
It happened like this: Albert was having breakfast at a restaurant in Lunenburg, wearing, as usual, his Marine Veterans' cap. "When I went to pay the bill, I was told it had been taken care of," he said. That's how he met Emerson, who, after learning Albert was from Shirley, asked what veterans there might need and if IC could help. "I told him about the project I was working on," Albert said.
Asked what prompted his outreach, Emerson cited personal as well as professional ties to the military.
"I'm a three-time veteran," he said. Sketching his own military journey, Emerson said he served a total of 13 years in the Air Force over three separate terms. He first enlisted as an airman, re-upped as an NCO, then entered the Academy of Military Science and earned the rank of captain.
IC offers an array of products to customers who are veterans, Emerson said, including debit and credit cards that identify the holder as a veteran, among other specialized perks.
IC is so vet-friendly it even has an official Veterans greeter, 89-year-old Stan Skamarycz, a veteran of WWII and Korea. As postmaster in Westminster for many years before coming to work at IC, he still has total recall for zip codes, Emerson said.
Skamarycz came to the recent dedication, along with Emerson, Turner, DuVerger, David Breton and Irene Camire. A couple of IC team members couldn't make it: Dove Aubuchon and Lisa Masha. The Town of Shirley was well represented, too. Besides Albert, the local turnout included the town administrator, all three selectmen and two uniformed police officers, one of whom was the chief.
The speaking roster was relatively short, its tone reverent. American Legion Chaplain Charles Church did the honors. He spoke of the meaning of this "sacred place" and those it honors: American service men and women who died protecting America's "liberties and values."
"Whether you are related to someone whose name appears on these plaques or not, you can share the kinship of being an American citizen," he said. "Hopefully, people will gather (here) to take pictures and veterans...to share experiences...or just stand or sit alone to ponder thoughts they can never share with anyone," he said. "Use this memorial as a place to heal your very soul."
He urged students as well as others to visit the new memorial often and to "preserve this place" for future generations. "As free Americans, it belongs to them, too," he said.
Viewing the plaques, each name evokes an era, echoes, memories. WWI, WWII (two plaques) Korea, Vietnam. Five bear the names of Shirley's war dead, "those who sacrificed for our freedoms." Albert said.
Asked about the sixth plaque, which is blank, he explained that the empty frame is reserved for future losses that, hopefully, will never come. "God forbid... another name," he said.