World War II vets sign ‘The Rifle’ at American Heritage Museum in Massachusetts
MetroWest Daily News August 2, 2021
HUDSON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — There’s a story behind every name on “The Rifle.”
Soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy, sailors who hunted down U-boats, Marines who drove back the Japanese, one island at a time.
There are more than 200 names on the M-1 Garand rifle owned by Andy Biggio, all of them World War II veterans, all of them sharing stories in Biggio’s book, “The Rifle: Combat Stories from America’s Last WWII Veterans, Told Through an M1 Garand.”
On Sunday, nearly 60 of these veterans gathered at the American Heritage Museum to take part in a book signing. Fifteen also received the French Legion of Honor, given to veterans who took part in campaigns to liberate France.
Recipients include Allison “Doc” Blaney, of Natick, and Winston “Pat” Flynn, of Lexington.
Biggio, who served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, began the project to honor his great-uncle, who was killed in action during World War II. Biggio purchased an M-1 Garand, which was standard issue during the war, and began interviewing veterans.
“I’ve been wanting to meet these guys since I was a kid,” he said.
Biggio also understood that the opportunity to interview these veterans was short, and getting shorter; one statistic shown during the ceremony said that fewer than 600,000 World War II veterans (among 16 million who served) were still alive as of 2019.
Of the 208 veterans who signed the rifle, Biggio said 30 were gone.
“Andy was born to do this,” said Mildred Cox, of Quincy, who served with the Marines during World War II as a stenographer based in Cherry Point, North Carolina. “He expressed himself so beautifully.”
During the signing, visitors queued up to purchase a copy, then had the veterans sign them. At one point, the line snaked through most of the exhibit space from World War II through the Persian Gulf War.
The oldest veteran present was 105-year-old Henry Maruszevicz, of Lowell, who served in the Army with the 276th Armored. He was also a recipient of the Legion of Honor. According to his daughter, he still lives alone, mows his lawn and drives.
The ceremony to present the Legion of Honor was also a chance to cheer the veterans, which happened several times. One veteran got a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” in honor of his 100th.
“The American GI made all the difference,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, who stopped by during the ceremony to honor the veterans.
The event also featured a short video on the story behind “The Rifle,” as well as trips made with World War II veterans to Belgium (where veterans had lunch with a German war veteran) and Italy; as well as a silent auction of “Rifle”-related items, with proceeds to help veterans take a trip to Normandy.
In addition to being an author and a member of the Boston Police Department, Biggio is also helping with the 10th annual Wounded Vet Run on Sept. 19. Details can be found at https://theyfoughtweride.com/.
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