HARVARD — Sharply dressed in his Marine uniform on Veterans Day, William Doe stood tall while Harvard Town Moderator and Marine veteran Bob Eubank pinned several ribbons on Doe’s chest. A crowd of 75 people looked on at the Old Hapgood Library.
It was a long time coming.
After his tour of duty in the Army during World War II, Doe went immediately back into action.
“I guess he wasn’t challenged enough,” said Harvard Veterans Agent Dennis Lyddy.
Channeling Doe’s possible mindset at the time, Lyddy theorized Doe might have told himself, “I want to get out of the Army and do something fun… Let me go off to the South Pacific and do combat with the Japanese.”
The Army veteran then joined the Marines.
On Dec. 26, 1943, Doe’s unit shipped out on the seaplane tender USS Pocomoke for arrival on Oahu on New Year’s Day 1944.
“He thought tiki torches and Hawaiian girls,” said Lyddy. Instead, Doe would be under fire in just two weeks time.
Doe pushed off from Hawaii on Jan. 8 aboard the escort warship USS White Plains to arrive in Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands on Jan. 14. Once there, Doe “underwent three bombing raids by enemy aircraft 15, 17 and 21 Jan. 1944,” according to Doe’s service record.
Doe “spent the greater part of his tour in the South Pacific,” said Lyddy, who read aloud from Doe’s logged “expeditions, engagements, distinguished service” record. Lyddy recounted Doe’s service aboard ships off Kwajalein Atoll and Roi-Namur on March 5, 1944. There was also Doe’s service aboard the escort aircraft carrier USS Windham Bay on July 7, which arrived in Saipan, Mariana Islands, on July 14.
Doe went in to secure the island after the Battle of Saipan concluded on July 9. Lyddy noted that while an official cease-fire was announced, “combat didn’t stop. In the end, 22,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide — with 20,000 committing suicide in the final days of the battle upon a promise of a privileged afterlife. Nearly an entire garrison of 30,000 Japanese troops had been killed. And nine hundred and twenty-one people became prisoners of war.
Amid the carnage, Lyddy described the constant worry of sniper attacks for Doe and his fellow sea soldiers.
Starting June 15, 1944, the Battle of Saipan proved to be the most costly to date in the Pacific War for the Americans. Of the 71,000 who landed, 2,949 Americans were killed and 10,364 wounded.
On April 20, 1944, Doe earned the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon, a medal awarded for his service under fire. But it wasn’t until some 66 years later that Doe would take possession of the award.
Lyddy explained it was common for servicemen to forgo the pomp and circumstance of a medal ceremony in their youth. A buck in love, getting home to his dad and his apple orchard, or just “getting a hot dog without being shot at,” were competing reasons for Doe to quickly head home after his tour of duty.
The pinning ceremony on Veterans Day took place after Harvard’s Girl Scouts and Brownie troops carried in the colors for the Pledge of Alliance and “Star-Spangled Banner.” Eubank drew applause when he told Doe that he “couldn’t help but look at those young faces and recognize that the things that you did enabled us all to be here.”
Eubank said the heavy emphasis given to World War II veterans at Marine training camps of his youth.
“We were often reminded of those who’d gone before us,” he said. “Facilities and fields and barracks are named for them. I can tell you that no era was more proudly revered than World War II.”
Eubank joked he wanted to “try to make sure he (Doe) doesn’t get a Purple Heart this time” before the extended pinning ceremony. He called out to the Scouts and the spectators. “I hope everyone remembers this moment. It’s a special privilege. It’s been called the greatest generation for a reason.”
First, “for staying in uniform and not being harassed by MPs,” Lyddy announced Doe was being awarded the so-called “Ruptured Duck” medal. Eubank pinned the Honorable Discharge pin, awarded for all service branches of all eras, onto Doe’s right breast pocket. “So far, so good.”
“Ouch,” Doe deadpanned.
On Doe’s left pocket went the predominantly blue American Campaign Medal, awarded to personnel for service within the American Theater between Dec. 7, 1941, and March 2, 1946.
Next, the gold-ribboned Asia Campaign Medal was pinned on Doe’s breast for combat service during the same period.
Finally, Doe received the World War II Victory Medal for bona-fide ground or combat service under enemy fire. Nike is depicted on the front of the medal, standing tall and holding a broken sword symbolizing the defeated Axis powers, a foot upon war god Mars’ helmet and framed by a sunburst illustrating the dawn of peace.
The moment was marked by a moment of silence who all who served in World War II.
Harvard Selectman and Navy veteran Ron Ricci then bestowed Harvard’s 2010 Veteran of the Year award upon Doe. Ricci said when he moved to East Bare Hill Road, Doe introduced himself to Ricci and encouraged him to get involved in the town’s veterans network.
“Till that time, I was just under the water,” Ricci, a former submarine officer, joked. “Bill encouraged me to get out and participate in the annual Memorial Day parade.”
Ricci announced the town award has now been renamed the “P.J. Award,” in memory of Paul V. “P.J.” Johnston. Johnston, a lifelong Harvard resident, Korean conflict Army veteran and 45-year member of the Fire Department, was honored at the Veterans Day ceremony last year.
At that time, P.J. and his twin brother, Peter Johnston, were both awarded Army Good Conduct Medals and National Defense Service Medals for their Army service. Less than three weeks later, on Nov. 29, P.J. passed away at age 81.
The services started with an explanation of the table set for one at the front of the room for the country’s prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“We call them brothers,” said Lyddy. “They’re unable to be with us today so we must remember them.”
Atop the table was placed a red rose for families and loved ones “who keep the faith, awaiting their return,” a lit candle symbolizing the soldier’s “unconquerable spirits,” a lemon slice to “remind us of their bitter fate,” spilt salt symbolizing “all the tears in waiting,” and an inverted cup “for those who can no longer toast with us.”
Lyddy thanked Martha Guptil for gifting World War II mementos from her family to the town’s Veterans Office, volunteers who are helping track and record the veterans graves in towns and to an anonymous donor who has pledged flag holders for each grave, including a recent determination that a veteran is buried in the Shaker cemetery who will be honored on Memorial Day.
Lyddy encouraged veterans to band with their brothers and sisters and to participate in Memorial Day annual services. Lyddy also announced that he and a cameraman are seeking to record videotaped interviews with town veterans as a part of the Veterans History Project. The program seeks to document veterans’ experiences for the Library of Congress.
“You don’t have to be a combat veteran,” Lyddy said. “We are fewer and fewer in number every year.” Those interested can contact Lyddy at 456-6848 or via e-mail at email@example.com.