New Bedford Remembers the Great War and Its Local Heroes [OPINION]
The City of New Bedford this weekend honored the men who gave all in Europe in the First World War.
I attended the memorial service Saturday honoring the sacrifice of the soldiers from New Bedford who fought as members of Battery D, 102nd Field Artillery, 26th “Yankee Division” during World War I in Europe.
Like most people, I had plans for the weekend. I was going to work with the rest of the crew from WBSM on Saturday to build up the Greater New Bedford United Way’s food stocks for Thanksgiving, and then attend the Veteran’s Day Parade on Sunday. The food drive in Buttonwood Park was going strong when a friend came by to make a large donation and say thank you to the volunteers.
My friend Chris Hendricks, the newly-elected State Representative from New Bedford, and I chatted a bit after his food donation had been processed. “I’m going to the World War I memorial service after this, you should walk over with me,” Hendricks said. If he hadn’t asked me, I would have missed one of the most moving experiences of my life.
We walked over from the Buttonwood Park Warming House to the “Doughboy" statue on Route 6. From across the road, we noticed the two enormous pieces of modern artillery that had been brought in for the event. As we looked at the artillery, I surveyed the active duty soldiers who had come with the guns in their battle fatigues. Every soldier there had a unit patch on their left shoulder, as is required by the Army.
Nearly every soldier also had a unit patch on their left shoulder. The left shoulder patch is only worn by active duty soldiers who have served in combat. These soldiers have seen combat and are still in uniform and available to go back in a moment’s notice. They were the living example of the soldiers we had come to honor.
The wind whipped down Route 6 and the sun made occasional, but brief, appearances during the ceremony. The gusts of wind constantly challenged the microphone system and knocked it out a few times.
The coldness and the high winds added an additional level of seriousness and focus to the memorial.
Robert C. Bromley, the Chairman of the New Bedford Veteran’s Advisory Board, opened the program with his trademark military briefness.
The National Anthem was performed beautifully by Tori Kalisz without the aid of music. She is the 2018 Miss New Bedford Outstanding Teen, and was volunteering at the food drive moments before honoring our heroes with the National Anthem.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell gave an extraordinary presentation. He spoke without notes and at times without a microphone. His knowledge of the city at the time of World War I and of the local folks who went off to that war was not spoken off of index cards. Before he was Mayor Mitchell, he was Lieutenant Mitchell.
Jon Mitchell was an artillery officer in the Massachusetts National Guard. Had he been born in an earlier time, he may have been in Europe for World War I with the soldiers from New Bedford. Although he was never in combat, Mitchell is the first New Bedford mayor in decades to have served in the military.
The presentation by the mayor was a pure tribute to the New Bedford men who served in World War I. He didn’t dilute their sacrifice by trying to link it to some hot social media trend. He didn’t use their sacrifice to bolster some unrelated cause important to him.
Mayor Mitchell stood in front of the tablet listing the names of the soldiers who died in World War I, and he spoke from his heart. As he spoke, the active duty soldiers, most of them with left shoulder combat patches, were on the other side of the small grass strip that holds the monument. He was looking at living soldiers as he discussed the ones who never came home.
Lt. Col. Peter Fiorentino followed Mayor Mitchell. He is the Battalion Commander of the 101st Field Artillery Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard. He gave a fascinating history lesson on New Bedford’s contribution to the Great War.
The ceremony ended with 22 carnations being laid on the monument, a flower for each name on the tablet. Peter Clark, himself a veteran, passed out the carnations to the volunteers, who laid them out as the names of the departed were read aloud. State Representative Antonio Cabral and City Council President Linda Morad joined with State Representative-elect Hendricks in the carnation tribute.
I will never forget that event as long as I have a functioning mind. There was seriousness and a deep feeling of obligation among the people who participated in, and observed, the memorial service. The people of New Bedford should be proud of themselves and the tremendous individuals who have done so much to preserve the life and liberty of our nation.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.