Journal Opinion May 24, 2023
Memorial or Decoration Day was first recognized in the period after the Civil War so that “the memory of the brave deeds and nobles sacrifices of our deceased soldiers be kept fresh in the minds of the people.” It was observed annually on May 30 in some states. In 1971, the observance became a national holiday and moved to the last Monday of May.
This column recalls the courage and dedication of 12 local residents who served their country from the Civil War to Iraq. They are just a sample of those who gave their lives while serving in the nation’s armed services.
About 10,000 New Hampshire and Vermont soldiers died in the Civil War, both from action and disease. Several hundred were from the local area.
Amos B. Chase, age 38, was mustered into Union service on Nov 20, 1863, and joined Co. H, 2nd Berdan’s Sharpshooters. Chase, a married man with four daughters and a carpenter, had lived in Newbury and Bradford. Snipers or sharpshooters got their title using Christian Sharps’ long-range rifles. Their duty was very hazardous, and their effectiveness had a demoralizing impact on the enemy.
Chase was with Company H at the Battle of the Wilderness and the siege of Petersburg, VA, where they were on almost constant skirmishing and picket duty. On June 18, 1864, Chase was killed in action. While his name is on a headstone in Bradford’s Upper Plain Cemetery he is probably buried at the national cemetery near Petersburg.
Nathaniel W. Westgate joined the First NH Calvary in March1864. He was a 19-year-old from Haverhill. His regiment saw action beginning in June. In early August1864, he was part of several successful cavalry raids targeting Southern railroads. On August 14, Westgate was taken prisoner near Winchester, VA.
He spent the next five months in Confederate prisons under absolutely miserable conditions. The diary he kept chronicled his declining health. On Jan 7, 1865 he died at Danville Prison, VA. A comrade wrote of Westgate’s death, “thus another noble son of freedom has been lain a sacrifice upon the altar of his country.”
In 1880, Haverhill-area veterans established the Nathaniel Westgate Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. The post was active in Decoration Day observances until at least 1912.
All area men who volunteered during the Spanish-American War were in Co. G, 1st Vermont Regiment. They mustered into service on May 16, 1898. They never saw action during the few months of the war, but instead spent a horrible summer at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga Park, GA. They suffered from heat, poor water, typhoid fever, dysentery, disgusting food and lack of medical equipment. At times, 50% of the men were ill. Not one of the 27 members of the regiment who died from those conditions were from the local area.
When the regiment returned to Vermont in Sept 1898, they “were a skeleton of its former self.” Some of those who had contracted malaria or typhoid suffered from it for the remainder of their lives.
The United States was involved in World War I from 1917 to 1918. Over 36,000 men and women from New Hampshire and Vermont were in the military service. That included over 650 local individuals, of which 35 died in service.
Fred A. Cook of Post Mills graduated from West Point in 1906. By 1917, he had risen to the rank of major and assigned to the American Expeditionary Force in France. In Oct, 1918, he was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry.
He was said to be “an inspiration to his men, and they would follow him in the face of murderous fire.” On Oct. 8 he was killed while “directing an attack on a strongly entrenched machine gun.” He was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism posthumously. He is buried in the American Cemetery near the battlefield where he “fell face to the foe.”
In 1920, the Earl Brock Post 78 American Legion was formed in Newbury to honor the only soldier from that town who died in World War I. One of the first functions of the Post was to give military honors as Brock was buried in the Newbury Center Town House Cemetery.
Brock grew up in South Newbury and was one of 58 men from Newbury who joined the service. He enlisted in the Army in April 1917 at age 19. He was assigned to Co. E, 55th Telegraph Battalion of the Signal Corps, and shipped to France with the American Expeditionary Force.
As with Major Cook, Private Brock was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in Oct 1918. On the 28th, while constructing telephone wires under severe shell fire, he was struck by a shell. He died the following day.
His commanding officer wrote a letter to his parents, remarking on Brock’s “quiet and modest demeanor…efficient and effective in every duty he was called upon to perform.”
Not all those who served were men or died from battle wounds. Bradford’s Josephine G. Barrett was a member of the Army Nursing Corps. The Corps required participants to be “unmarried, well-trained, respectable women, between the age of 25 and 35 and be a graduate of a nursing school.” Barrett, 28 met those requirements.
She was assigned to the U.S. Army Base at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, S.C. She was the first Bradford woman known to have served in the nation’s armed forces.
In Oct 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit the camp hard. Inundated with sick soldiers, military nurses were overworked and susceptible to the disease. Barret became ill, and on Oct. 13, she died. She is buried in Bradford’s Upper Plain Cemetery.
Thousands of men and women from New Hampshire and Vermont were involved in World War II (1941-1945) and 295 died.
Charles R. Pierce of Orford was a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He grew up in Orford and described as “one of our most popular boys.”
In Nov 1940, he volunteered for service, and after training was shipped to the Philippines, arriving before war broke out. In May 1942, after 120 days of intensive fighting, the Americans at Corregidor surrendered to Japanese forces. Approximately 9,000 Americans were taken prisoner and forced on what was known as the Bataan Death March. Pierce was among them.
The captives were imprisoned under appalling conditions and many died from abuse or disease. On August 3, 1942, Pierce and 14 comrades, died at the Cabanatuan Prison camp in the Philippines. They were buried in a common grave.
In 1950, the bodies of men from that grave were retrieved. The Pierce family travelled to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Mo.to attend his burial in the local national cemetery. A headstone with his name is in Orford’s West Cemetery.
On Dec 30, 1942, 24-year-old Raymond S. Wood of Woodsville was killed fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Lt. Wood had been stationed there with the 182nd Infantry Regiment as an intelligence officer.
The battle at Guadalcanal was the first major land offensive against the Japanese forces. Wood and his men were involved in the battle for Sea Horse on the island’s north coast. He was mortally wounded leading a combat patrol against the enemy. In a letter to his family, his commanding officer wrote, “after being hit, he survived for about five minutes during which the men in his patrol opened themselves to heavy enemy fire to render aid.”
In the announcement of his death, The Groton Times described him as “a boy of good disposition, honest, frank, enthusiastic to better himself, most devoted to his family and scores of friends.”
Wood’s remains were not recovered from the battle site until 2008. At that time, he was memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery.
Sixty-five men from Topsham enlisted in World War II. King F. Dexter was one of two killed. In Oct 1942, at age 20, he was inducted into the Army. He saw action in North Africa, Sicily and Tunisia before being transferred to England to train for the invasion of France.
In June, 1944 his company was part of the Normandy D-Day invasion. In July, his family received a letter from him saying that he had been taken prisoner by the Germans but escaped the next day to return to his company.
On July 16, Dexter was killed in action. He left behind his wife Norma and a son he never saw. In March 1949, his body was shipped by rail back to Bradford and met by a local American Legion post honor guard. He is buried in the East Corinth cemetery.
In 1950, the United States was supporting South Korea in its fight against North Korean and Chinese troops. Before this conflict ended in 1953, over 190 service members from New Hampshire and Vermont lost their lives.
Lyme resident and Thetford Academy graduate Guy O. Chesley was among the first to give his life. At 19, he was an infantryman in Company L, 9th Infantry Regiment.
In February 1951, his company was engaged in bitter fighting against Chinese forces at Chaum-Ni. In an attempt to control supply lines, the Americans were taking heavy casualties.
On the morning of Feb 14, 68 Company L soldiers were found murdered in their sleep. That is the recorded day of Private Chesley’s death, but I could not determine if he was one of the 68 or if he died during the fighting.
Chesley’s body was shipped back to the States in August 1951 and after a memorial service, he was buried in the Lyme’s Highland Cemetery.
In the Spring of 1953, A similar memorial service for another member of the 9th Infantry was held in Orford. Being memorialized was Cp1 Clayton Huckins, a 20-year-old who had joined the Infantry in July, 1950.
His sister, Helen Huckins Marsh of Fairlee, recently spoke of her brother as “the go-to guy for things out of doors.” As a youngster he fished along Orford’s Jacobs Brook, “always investigating.” He was known as the type of “buddy who watch others’ backs.”
On March 12, 1953, Huckins was constructing tactical wire around the company’s position near a mountain known as “Little Gibraltar” north of the Imjin River. There had been heavy fighting against Chinese troops. He was recently awarded the Bronze Star for historic achievement and was scheduled to come home for his 20th birthday.
He received what was a mortal injury, but continued his hazardous work until unable to do so no longer. His body returned by train to Fairlee and a memorial service was held in the Orfordville church on the banks of the Jacobs. He is buried in the Orford’s West Cemetery.
With improvements in medical care, the number of soldiers who survived even major wounds increased. However, during the Vietnam war, 197 New Hampshire and Vermont service personnel lost their lives.
On April 14, 1969, David W. Hildreth, a 19-year-old soldier from Warren, NH, died at Quang Tri Province. Hildreth had enlisted in the Army in February, 1968.
He succumbed to injuries from a mortar attack on the base camp of Company D, 27th Engineering Battalion. He never got to see his daughter born eight days following his death.
In a recent letter Hildreth’s cousin Gloria Bumford of Warren, wrote, “he was a typical country boy…who made the decision in later life to serve his country.”
A memorial service was held in Warren, and he was buried in Glencliff’s High Street Cemetery. A 15-man contingent from Fort Devens conducted the full military rites.
On July 4, 1970, by Legislative decree, the local Baker River flood control dam was renamed the David Wayne Hildreth Dam.
Specialist Alan J. Burgess joined the Woodsville unit of the NH National Guard in 2002. He had grown up in Lisbon, Bradford and Landaff and graduated from Oxbow and River Bend. It was said that he was one who could easily bring a smile to others.
His unit was deployed to Iraq as part of the 197th Field Artillery Brigade. On Oct 12, 2004. while on patrol as a vehicle gunner in Mosul, Iraq, he was killed by a car bomb. He was one of 65 from the two states who died in the post 9/11 wars.
In an Associated Press release at the time, his mother Karen Moore of Bradford, said “He had a love for his family and for his country. His needs were always last, everybody else came first…they were all there because they had to go.”
He was buried in the Landaff Central Cemetery on Oct 25. 2004. In 2010, by Legislative action, the Salmon Hole Bridge on Rt 302 in Lisbon was renamed the Specialist Alan J. Burgess Memorial Bridge.
Burgess joined the hundreds of local residents who gave their lives in the military service. On Memorial Day, pause as you drive by a local cemetery. Notice the flags placed on the graves of fallen service members and remember their sacrifice.