Veterans Voices: Cities of Springfield, Westfield honor veterans no longer with us

Veterans Voices

Gone but not forgotten. We are celebrating the men and women who serve our country in war and peace.

“At the Springfield Museums especially at the History Museum we really love to hold up the stories of the past especially stories that are relevant to today.” 

“Thank you for your Service” is the theme of this exhibit to honor the sailors who sailed the USS Springfield a light cruiser commissioned in 1944 just in time to make a difference in World War II.

“The third version of the USS Springfield was a cruiser that actually saw action during World War II,” said Karen Fisk of the Museum of Springfield History. “It helped protect the aircraft carriers going into the attack on Okinawa and it was one of the first ships into Tokyo Bay and it earned two service stars for the work during that war.”

And that greatest generation continued to serve and inspire after the war was over. It’s a characteristic in veterans from western Massachusetts that can be traced all the way back to the Civil War.

“And what we’ve noticed again and again especially stories of veterans is people who served their country as soldiers they came back to the U-S, they came back to Springfield specifically and they continued to serve either by doing civic work like Thomas Thomas after the Civil War came back and helped build a Benevolent Society for African American entrepreneurs.”

“Or Gert Cahill Carney who came back after World War II having served as a WAVE and sat down and got to work building a database of 300 female soldiers so that we could look back and see who had served during the wars. That’s important  work, it helps us remember and it helps us celebrate the incredible civic duty that these people gave to us.”

The Springfield Armory played a major role in conflicts in the United States throughout the ages including during World War I where they provided the primary weapon used by U.S. Troops.

All of this is on display at the Wood Museum of Springfield History where active service members and veterans can get in for free.

In Westfield they’re preserving the memories of veterans in a different way.

“I think that our veterans in particular and notable members of our community that are interred here and other cemeteries,” said Gene Theroux of American Legion Post 124. “Their history needs to be preserved and their legacy needs to carry on forward.” 

Gene Theroux the past commander of American Legion Post 124 is honoring veterans one gravestone at a time. Gene has spent hundreds of hours in Pinehill Cemetery in Westfield and Southwick’s Old Cemetery cleaning the headstones and monuments of veterans of all wars.

“The product I use is called D/2.  It used by the Department of the Interior, the White House, the Supreme Court amongst other buildings,” Theroux said. “It’s used by the National Park Service and all the national cemeteries.”

“So it works it’s way into the stone. It kills all the biological growth that’s inside the stone and then afterwards through a combination of the sun, wind and rain it draws all that stuff out,” he said. “And if you come back in a matter of months this monument will be absolutely white. It will be gorgeous.”

What Gene and his volunteers are doing, stone by stone, is preserving history so a veteran like 19-year-old Bernard Barnes who was killed in action in Europe in 1944 won’t be forgotten.

“Bernard was a young man who got called up like so many other young men during that time to serve in World War II and he served over in Europe obviously and died at a very young age at the age of 19,” said Brian Barnes, nephew of Bernard Barnes. “So that made my grandmother a Gold Star mother, and also prevented my father from going to serve because he was the last remaining male in the family.”

And this headstone originally set over 70 years ago almost looks brand new.

“But to actually come up here and to be able to legibly read everything and to see the dates and to kind of remember the people and you tend to almost forget some of the details because it’s so dirty and washed over with muck,” Barnes. “And then you clean it off and it’s a source of pride when our family members come up here they can actually see a beautiful renovated gravestone and they can read clearly all the dates and the names. It’s been a very special thing for us.”

“They sacrificed so much for our liberty and freedom and just imagine if it wasn’t for Stanley Kellogg Smith and his son what he did in World War II” said Theroux. “Or Richard Vincent over there who paid the ultimate sacrifice on Tarawa on November 20th 1943.”

“So we have a lot to be grateful and thankful for. I sure am,” Theroux continued. “And so it’s not so much for me to spend some of my time cleaning and preserving monuments for our heroes as well as other notable citizens in our community.”

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