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Vets agent: ‘It really shook me, the thing we never talked about’

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PEPPERELL — “It really shook me, the things we never talked about,” Veterans Service Officer Myron “Ted” Harmon told selectmen. “Some folks show up with 1,000 people into a town this size.”

Harmon was reporting on what he had learned at a special meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association in Milford that he was asked to attend.

The topic was “Our Local War Hero: Casualties, Benefits and the Returning Veteran.”

The day-long conference addressed challenges facing town administrators and staff when they are told a resident of their community has been killed in action.

The seminar also provided an update on the role of the community’s Veterans Service Officer in today’s environment and a look at potential issues regarding the returning veteran.

“Dealing with crises, with families, how are we equipped to deal with (issues)?” Selectman Joseph Sergi asked.

“It’s different when people are killed,” Harmon explained to a very quiet board. “They’re sending them home in seven days now. The mothers (Gold Star Mothers at the conference) were telling it like it is, in order to tell other mothers things you’d never think of, like if you’re going to send his clothes home because I just want to smell them.”

Sergi asked aloud if Pepperell would be prepared for an influx of a large number of people.

“You guys have to talk to the chief (of police),” Harmon said, but added that many towns don’t have enough police officers to deal with crowds.

One group that normally shows up en mass is the Patriot Riders, veterans on motorcycles who carry the flag and often help with crowd control.

“They’re well-respected, not like those other idiots,” Harmon said.

Selectmen also asked Harmon about the status of the Veterans Service Office.

Asked if his budget had any “wiggle room,” Harmon said it’s in reasonable shape but a large part of the financial help for veterans that he can coordinate comes from outside the town.

“I worked with Congressman Meehan’s office, now Congressman Olver’s office,” Harmon said. “When I call with a tough situation, (his staff members) make some moves. No one messes with a Congressman.”

When Sergi asked if there is anything selectmen can do to help him in his job, Harmon said things are going fine.

“If I need more money I ask Bob (town administrator Robert Hanson). There are also some fine guys in this town, local businessmen who help,” Harmon said.

“That’s a good synopsis and we appreciate it,” Selectman Lyndon Johnson said of Harmon’s report. “We’re here for you, ready to go to battle for you. Veterans are very close to us.”