SHIRLEY — Fresh breezes and a cloudless sky served as backdrop as local military veterans and their families and friends gathered at Whiteley Park to commemorate Aug. 14, 1945, the end of World War II.
Although the treaty would be signed later, that was the date and time that the world knew the Second World War was over.
WWII claimed the lives of over 400,000 service men and women, according to a proclamation by the selectmen on behalf of the town of Shirley that Town Administrator Patrice Garvin read near the end of the ceremony.
Beginning with the familiar “whereas..” the document officially recognized the “National Spirit of 1945” bill passed by the legislature in 2010, honoring those who gave their lives serving the nation in WWII and the contributions and sacrifices made on the home front.
With the end of WWII, the holocaust also ended, and the world began a “new era” of rebuilding, the proclamation stated.
After American Legion Post Chaplain Charles Church gave the invocation and Post Commander Aron Griffin posted the colors, Boy Scout Douglas Bingle, of Shirley, led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the national anthem, sung by Holly Haase.
The keynote speaker was Shirley Police Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell, a member of the Veterans Events Committee, which organized the event.
“This town is unique,” given the numbers answering the call to arms in 1941, Cromwell said, citing 334 local men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Air Corps and Marines in WWII. That number represented 13 percent of the small town’s population at the time and was one of the highest percentages in the United States, she said.
Cromwell described how the Gold Star Mothers tradition began. All of those service men and women’s mothers were given pennants with a blue star that they could hang in the windows of their homes, announcing that a son or daughter was serving in the military. And if and when the dreaded telegram came, notice that one of their children had been killed in the war, the blue star was exchanged for a gold one.
Eleven Shirley mothers received that gold star and were honored every year until the last of them had passed away, Cromwell said.
Cromwell read the names of the Greatest Generation who were present. They are among 2.5 million WWII veterans still living, out of 16 million who survived the war. Their numbers diminish by 1,000 every day, she said. Turning to the veterans seated in a line of chairs with their names taped to the backs, she said: “The town honors you today.”
Shirley’s living WWII veterans are Norman Albert, U.S. Marines; Anthony Bucca, George Callahan, John Casey, Carlton Crothers, Donald Delaite and Jesse Ewing, Raymond Farrar and Donatien “Doc” Forest, Joe Landry, John Oldenburg and John Ranno, U.S. Army; Vincent Doiron, Phillip Draleau, Gerald Gendron, Richard Hatch, Richard Larochelle, Chester Pauley, Donald Stephens and Kenneth Wheeler, U.S. Navy and Willard Estes, U.S. Army Air Corps.
After asking other veterans present who were not from Shirley to “please stand and be recognized” and waiting for the applause to abate, Cromwell read a more solemn roster: “The 13 Shirley heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice and died for our country.” They should never be forgotten, she said. “Let their memories continue forever.”
The men were Frederick Ambrose, Gerard Chevrette, Lawrence Credit, Herbert Dupray, Stephen Dynice, brothers Leon and Leonard Gionet, brothers Chester and Edward Kacmaricik, Aarne Karvonen, Walter Lambert, Joseph Nowakunski and Paul Vincent.
They served in the Army and U.S. Army Air Corps, the Marines, Navy and the Coast Guard. Along with their names, ranks and branches of service, Cromwell sketched where and how each man had died, each one a hero in his own right.
When she had finished, Taps were played on a pair of bugles, one echoing the other. The tradition began during the Civil War and continues to grace military memorial ceremonies today.
As the anthems from their service branches played over the loudspeakers, each of the WWII veterans present stood, some with great difficulty, all with pride,
The ceremony concluded with a benediction. “It is they who have ensured our freedom,” said Church.