(More photographs below.)
Haverhill formally observed Veterans Day Wednesday, placing extra attention on those who served in Vietnam at the new city memorial in their honor
In lieu of a traditional parade—cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic—a brief ceremony took place at the recently relocated Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Mill Brook Park. Acknowledging the modest observance, City Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, who served as master of ceremonies, said the event still allows everyone to “remember, and commemorate and celebrate those heroes who served our country so honorably so that we could be free in 2020.” His voice cracking with emotion, Sullivan talked of his father and the incomplete memorial near Basiliere Bridge erected in 1973.
“My dad, who was at the original dedication of the Vietnam vets memorial at Basiliere Bridge—I would have been all of, maybe, eight years old. I don’t remember that day—but I did grow up by the Basiliere Bridge and occasionally I would look over at that monument and, as a government major and as an attorney, in school I learned how important monuments were as symbols and I would look at that monument and wonder why—why is something there on a corner of a bridge that nobody can really see,” he said.
He noted his father, Haverhill Veterans Service officer John Sullivan who died in 1985, was a U.S. Navy veteran and launched the Veterans of Foreign Wars Lorraine Post 29 Santa Parade in 1964. Sullivan also thanked Vietnam veteran and former Haverhill City Councilor Louis Fossarelli for suggesting relocation of the memorial.
Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini also reserved the majority of his remarks for those who served in Vietnam, saying veterans of that controversial conflict often were not acknowledged even though Washington set the unpopular policies.
The mayor singled out two Vietnam veterans who survived horrific attacks in the war, but later suffered severe disabilities or death from the herbicide Agent Orange. Omitting the family last name, Fiorentini said, spoke of “Randy,” a young infantry officer sent to Vietnam, who was struck by a grenade attack that split open his stomach and the care he receives from his wife Debbie.
“Today, he survives, but the remains of Agent Orange and the grenade attack caught up with him. Debbie has dedicated her life to taking care of Randy and advocating for him so he doesn’t have to go into a nursing home,” he said.
Fiorentini also remembered John Gilmartin, who enlisted in the Navy, served two tours of service and was wounded twice, but died a few years back from complications of Agent Orange.
VFW Lorraine Post 29 Post Commander Keith Gopsill called on the small audience gathered to reflect on the sacrifices made by the nation’s war veterans.
“We remember the wars fought to defend, protect and preserve the freedoms we enjoy in this country. We also remember those who bravely gone to war and who have given of themselves so that others can live in peace and safety. We also remember those who have gone to war and paid the ultimate price for those freedoms like the 13 Haverhill heroes honored here at Mill Brook Park,” Gopsill said.
The ceremony opened with Haverhill High School’s Nicholas Castillo singing the National Anthem and closed with the laying of wreaths with Vietnam veteran Charles Grandmaison and Linda Gambino Baxter, whose brother Michael Gambino, was killed in action during that war.
Besides Sullivan and Fiorentini, other elected officials participating were City Council President Melinda E. Barrett and Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who both served on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission; Councilor John A. Michitson; Sen. Diana DiZoglio; and Reps. Andy X. Vargas, Linda Dean Campbell and Leonard Mirra.
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