Ten days before Marblehead Veterans Day observances, 'Headers descended upon Memorial Park to pay a trio of late veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice in World War II tribute.
Veterans Agent Dave Rodgers organized the brief ceremony, which paid homage to Willard Fader, Ralph Messervey and Azor Orne Goodwin, all of whom were killed in the Invasion of Normandy, France in the summer of 1944.
Rodgers said Fader and Messervey were killed on June 6 while fighting in the first day of the invasion on Omaha Beach. And six days later, Goodwin was killed on June 12 .
And 73 years later, the invasion, conducted by Allied Forces against Nazi forces, remains the largest amphibious operation carried out in modern history - with 156,000 troops mobilized by land, by sea and by air. After all was said and done, casualties climbed to over 10,000 on the Allied Forces’ side alone.
At the Nov. 1 ceremony, Marblehead resident and Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts member Barton Hyte transferred Omaha Beach sand into a perfectly dug-out, circular hole in the grass before the base of Memorial Park’s World War II monument.
Before doing so, Hyte said: “I appreciate Dave Rodgers for putting this ceremony together so quickly, and it’s quite an honor for me to do this.”
Hyte was joined by fellow Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts members David Graham and Alan Rieper.
“The company is the third oldest chartered military organization in the world, third to the Swiss Guard and second to the Honorable Artillery Company of London,” said Hyte. “We were actually founded in 1638.”
The organization was established in Boston’s Faneuil Hall and claims 11 Medal of Honor recipients and four United States’ presidents, including James Monroe, Chester Arthur, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy, as members.
Hyte scooped up the Omaha Beach sand in October when the Artillery Company conducted its 2017 fall field trip of duty. Trips of duty, as Hyte put it, constitute one of the charges enshrined in the military organization’s charter – with members visiting international and national places to pay respects where United States soldiers died in the line of duty.
“This year, we went to France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of [the United States entering] World War I,” said Hyte, adding the fall trip included stops to the Parisian cemetery where the Marquis de Lafayette is laid to rest, the Palace of Versailles, the beaches of Normandy and the Arc de Triomphe, where an unknown soldier is buried.
Before the trip, Hyte said, he scooped up sand from Marblehead’s Devereux Beach, put it in a plastic bag, carried it on the airplane and, when in Normandy, emptied it onto Omaha Beach. So Hyte bringing back Omaha Beach sand prompted the Memorial Park ceremony – to which family of the veterans honored, local veterans and members of Marblehead Board of Selectmen attended.
“It’s wonderful that they brought back sand and buried it here as a symbol of our memory,” said Selectman Moses Grader, standing beside his fellow selectmen, Jackie Belf-Becker and Jim Nye.
And from remarks offered, the importance of remembering soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice emerged as the ceremony’s theme.
In quoting a John F. Kennedy speech from 1963, Rodgers said: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
As the ceremony progressed, veterans placed flowers and a folded Old Glory on the World War II monument.
“We are very grateful that so many of our comrades returned home, safely, from their tours of duty to live out their lives,” said Marblehead’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2005 Commander Ben Gatchell, “but it is with a heavy heart that we honor those who died in the line of duty.”
The seminal tribute one can give fallen soldiers, he went on to say, is not only to remember them, but also “to apply to our own lives the strong will and undaunted courage that was theirs.”
He added: “They have given us strong incentive to seek lasting peace and better purpose in life, and they will always be a part of our thoughts and actions.”
The ceremony dissolved after a William Kenneally sounded “Taps” and William Tracy performed the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Marblehead Forever,” the town’s anthem, on a violin painted in red, white and blue.
Kenneally, who served as combat medic with 10 1st Airborne in Vietnam, called ceremony moving.