Opening the Memorial Day ceremony at Whiteley Park Sunday afternoon, chaplain and newly elected American Legion Post 183 Commander Charles Church said it was a solemn day with a singular purpose: To remember and honor the “supreme sacrifice” that American soldiers, sailors, Marines and air men and women made for their country in times of war.
His prayer called on those left behind to preserve their patriotic legacy and to “renew our pledge of loyalty” to the ideals they fought and died for, among which are law and order and the “will to see and do what is right.”
Before relinquishing the podium to guest speaker Norman Albert, Church introduced honorary parade marshal Doc Forest, a World War II veteran who joined the military in 1943, served at Guadalcanal and the Philippines and whose wartime decorations include the Philippine Liberation Medal, received in 1946.
“It was fitting to honor him this year,” Church said of Forest, who is one of two 66-year members of the local American Legion. The other is past Post 183 commander Athanace “Joe” Landry.
The keynote speaker was another past post commander, Norman Albert. Following the town’s long-held tradition, he gave two Memorial Day speeches on Sunday, one at an earlier gathering in the center and this one in the village.
His Whiteley Park address focused on the 23 white wooden crosses mounted on a caisson several yards in front of him, each inscribed with the name of a fallen hero from Shirley.
Albert named each one.
One cross bears the name of U.S. Army Sgt. Earl Baxter, who was called back to active duty during the Korean War and was killed in the first battle. “His wife is here with us today,” Albert said. One cross is for Norman Forget, another soldier who died in Korea.
Carlos Rivera lost his life serving in Vietnam. His mother still lives in Shirley.
Albert said that while researching the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., Church found another fallen hero to add to the town’s honored roll. John Hargett was a career soldier who enlisted from Shirley. He, too, was killed in Vietnam.
Going back in time, Albert singled out six crosses for soldiers of the expeditionary forces who gave their lives in 1918 in the battle of Chateau Thierry, France: Peter Clemenzi, Adolard Colard, Alfred Gagnon, Luis Ruggles, John Horton, and Hermogene Joyle.
John Horton died of meningitis in March, 1918. The Historical Society has a half dozen letters he wrote his mother before he died, Albert said.
Cpl. Hermogene Joyle was his uncle and also the uncle of Marcel Gionet. (A World War II veteran and longtime legion member, Gionet recently served as post chaplain.)
Albert said he has a letter Joyle wrote to his family on the eve of battle that tells of his experiences and asks them to pray for his safe return.
After World War I, the Town of Shirley named small squares after those who lost their lives in service, erecting plaques with their names. Today, the plaques have all disappeared. “All that is left is a piece of worthless land,” Albert said. “What a shame! What a real shame!”
The other 13 crosses bear the names of servicemen who gave their lives in World War II, Albert said. Holding up two banners, one by one, he explained what they stood for. This custom originated a term and titled an organization: Gold Star Mothers. They displayed their banners and later wore their pins with pride, but each gold star symbolized heartbreak and irremediable loss, the true meaning of the “ultimate sacrifice.”
“When someone from Shirley entered the military, this person’s mother would display a banner with a blue flag on it,” signifying sons or daughters in the service, with a blue star for each one. If one of her children was killed, a gold star would replace the blue star.
He listed the sons for whom blue stars were replaced with gold ones.
* Frederick Ambrose, chief warrant officer, U.S. Army. Taken prisoner in the Philippines, he survived the Bataan death march but died of malaria in a Japanese POW camp.
* Gerard Chevrette lived “just down the street” from the park near Roux’s market. He served in the U.S. Army and was killed in Germany on March 19, 1945.
“This banner, with a blue star, belonged to Mrs. Chevrette,” he said. When she received a telegram notifying her that her son had been killed, she affixed th e gold star where the blue star had been.
* Lawrence Credit was a U.S. Marine killed in an auto accident while on leave.
* Herbert Dupray served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He died on Feb. 3, 1943, while stationed aboard the USS Dorchester. “Fifty miles from its destination, the troop ship was torpedoed and 990 men were sent to a watery grave,” Albert said. The tragedy is well known, he continued.
* Four chaplains who died on that ship gave their life jackets to wounded soldiers. Albert added another unknown story. Herbert also gave his life jacket to a fellow serviceman, helped him overboard before jumping into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, “where he perished.” That soldier visited Herbert’s parents and told them about their son’s sacrifice, Albert said.
* Stephen Dynice served in the U.S. Army and was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
* Leon Gionet lived “across the tracks,” Albert said. “We can see his home from here.” One of four brothers who went to war, he served in the U.S. Army and participated in the battles of Arno and Rome. He was killed in North Ardennes, Belgium.
* Leonard Gionet was Leon’s brother. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His plane was shot down over Papua, New Guinea. “His remains and those of his crew were recently found,” Albert said, and they will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “Mrs. Gionet lost two of her sons in the war,” Albert said.
Mrs. Kacmarcik was another Shirley mother who lost two sons in World War II, Chester and Edward.
* 1st Lt. Chester Kacmarcik was one of four brothers who served in the military. A member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, his B-17 sank a heavy Japanese cruiser after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, but the plan was lost returning to home base. The remains of the crew were never found.
* Edward Kacmarcik was in the U.S. Navy. When his ship was torpedoed off Morocco, Kacmarcik gave his life jacket to a wounded soldier and swam 5 miles to shore, Albert said. He was listed as missing but came home safe. Later reassigned, he was aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific when the ship was torpedoed and sank in Lisbon Bay, with 1,500 men on board.
* Aarne Karvonen was a navigator in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He lost his life when his plane was shot down on a mission.
* Walter Lambert served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was aboard an ammunition ship, the USS Serpens, when he was killed. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on January 29, 1945 off the coast of New Caledonia.
* Paul Vincent served in the U.S. Army. He was killed during a battle in Europe.
“Unfortunately, no further information is available” right now, Albert said.
In conclusion, Albert said the 23 crosses on the caisson are “more than just names.” They are names that should not be forgotten. “They represent the reason why we have our freedom,” he said. “We are free to assemble here today,” free to elect community leaders (without a shot being fired.) Free to worship “according to our conscience” or not at all. Free so that our children can pursue their education, grow and become future leaders. “May we be forever grateful for those heroes who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.”
Albert asked the gathering not to applaud when he finished speaking. “Because this is not about me, this is about them,” he said.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.