AYER — While Memorial Day honors those who’ve died in combat for the country, in Ayer used the holiday to honor 88 veterans who had resided in town for at least a decade. Previously, only veterans who could cite Ayer as their residence at the time of their enlistment were given entry to the town’s Memorial Garden next to Ayer Town Hall.
On Saturday, a new bronze plaque was unveiled with the 88 names inscribed on it. Among the names is Selectman James Fay. Fay, a Dorchester native, served as chairman of the Memorial Garden Committee.
Another enrollee on the plaque is the late Manuel “Manny” Velez, who served in the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam. Velez, a native of Puerto Rico, passed away last August. He served on the Memorial Garden Committee and served 26 years as Ayer’s veterans agent.
James Stephen’s name is listed. A Chicago native, Stephen settled in Ayer in 1988 following his Army service that brought him through Fort Devens. Of the rules change that allows Ayer adoptees into the Memorial Garden, “I thought it was nice to change it” Stephen said.
Stephen struck up a conversation Saturday with fellow Army veteran Delbert Ford when he heard Ford was originally from Brockton, Ill. “I met my wife at Fort Devens and retired and just stayed here,” Ford said. Ford, a 40-year resident of the town, is also included in the new honor roll.
Faye Morrison, a former Ayer selectman, presented a United States flag to the committee on behalf of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. She thanked the committee on Tsongas’ behalf but also on personal grounds. Morrison’s late father, Richard Ellis, served in the Army for more than 25 years before living out the last 30 years of his life in Ayer. Ellis’ name is listed upon the monument plaque.
American Legion bugler Joseph Scunziano played taps for the Town Hall tribute. An Army veteran, Scunziano is among the new names enrolled via the new Memorial Garden plaque.
Watching the ceremony from the front steps of the Post Office was Marilyn Guichard of Ayer, wife of the late Edward Guichard, an Army veteran cited on the plaque. A Maine native, Guichard recalled meeting and marrying her husband-to-be, a Fitchburg native, at Old Orchard Beach. “I was 23 and he was 27.”
Edward Guichard lived 40 years in Ayer following his 21 years of service. He was stationed on Fort Devens in 1964. The couple raised two boys and two girls, all of whom graduated from Ayer High School. Their daughter, Elizabeth Bodurtha of Ayer, applied for her father’s entry onto new honor roll.
Guichard passed away from kidney and lung cancer in 1989, but Marilyn Guichard wished to stress a message regarding post traumatic stress disorder. “I used to beg him to go for help,” she said, recalling her husband’s three-year bout with extreme nightmares after he returned home. He served in both Word War II and the Korean War. He bucked help, saying, “If I go in, they won’t let me re-up.'”
The first name on the plaque is that of Rene Alexander. While she turned 90 years old this week, she was spry posing before the memorial with her four children. She recognized the names of several on the stone as friends of hers and her late husband, including Army veterans Arthur Haslam and Albin Jodka.
A native of Athens, Ga., Alexander served in the U.S. Navy, as did her late husband Robert. Robert Alexander hailed from Clinton and is recognized in that town, along with his late brother Arthur Alexander, “an Annapolis man” who was lost at sea, Rene Alexander said. Rene lives in the Sandy Pond home she shared with her husband.
“I’ve been here a lot longer than I ever was in Georgia,” she said with the faintest, charming southern drawl. When asked whether she considers Ayer her home, Alexander said, “To have been here this long, it’s got to be my home.”