Massachusetts cities honor veterans injured or killed in the line of duty
METHUEN, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Methuen, Haverhill and North Andover are now among Massachusetts’ newest Purple Heart communities after ceremonies marking the honor Saturday.
As Haverhill Veterans Services Director Luis Santiago explains, National Purple Heart Day is not necessarily one of congratulations.
"Purple Heart Day recognizes someone who had the courage to fight for our country against an enemy who was detrimental to our sovereignty," Santiago said. "It's about congratulating them for the hard work, discipline and the courage it takes for an individual to raise their right hand and fight for our country."
Several local veterans were recognized by their communities at events at Haverhill's G.A.R. Park, Methuen's VFW Post 8349 and in North Andover's old center. Lawrence, which is also a purple heart community, put up wreaths citywide to acknowledge its veterans.
According to Gerry Maguire, an Army veteran from Methuen who worked with a committee in his city to help push that Purple Heart community designation through with the help of councilors Jessica Finocchiaro, Mike Simard and others, roughly 17% of a city's population is made up of veterans.
"The Purple Heart medal is no medal that anyone wants to have," Maguire said. "No one wakes up and says, 'Gee, I want to get shot today.' To get it, you have to lose your life in combat or be wounded by enemy action."
The Purple Heart used to be issued for meritorious service when it was first given out by George Washington. From 1942 on, the medal was limited to servicemen and servicewomen killed or wounded by enemy action on or after April 5, 1917.
"(Purple Heart Day) is a movement to honor veterans, but it's also a scary day for veterans because it's a national day now," Maguire said. "Veterans are forced to remember how they got hurt, or how they saw their buddy get shot in the head. It can be a trigger. We want veterans to reach out if they need help."
Committees in Methuen and Haverhill reached out to Brian Willette from the state's Purple Heart Association for more information on how to secure their community's Purple Heart access. Soon, signs distinguishing the cities' Purple Heart designations will dot the outskirts of town.
In connection with Methuen's designation as a Purple Heart community, the city issued a proclamation requesting residents and businesses display the American flag in a show of patriotism.
These cities should be "proud" to be added to the list, said retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major James Carabello of North Andover, who spoke at the Methuen event.
Those honored in Methuen Saturday were Arnold W. Greenwood, Albert Paplaskas, Joseph Montalto (Army Air Corps), Albert Campagnone, Carmen Campagnone, Bernard Campagnone Clifford Williams, Anthony Yemma, Rosaire Dubois, John McGurn, Jacob L. Armeen, Thomas F. Dorsey and William D. Liversidge, along with Marine veterans Anthony Haldane and John Wilford Roy, Air Force veteran John Hoegen Jr. and Navy veteran George Arnold Prunier.
Korean War Army veterans P. Norman Trembley and Daniel S. Judge; Vietnam Army veterans John A. Fontaine , Charles Bruder, Richard Gaudette, William Patenaude, Ronald Wilson, Richard Edward Potter and David Peter Bedrosian, along with Korean War Marine veterans Raymond Paplaskas, Michael Vercauteren; Afghanistan Marine veteran Eric Currier (deceased) and Iraq Marine veteran David Vicente (deceased) were also acknowledged Saturday in Methuen.
After the name of each deceased Purple Heart recipient was read in Methuen, a bell was rung to acknowledge their service and honor their memory.
In Haverhill, Marines Christopher Landers and Gerard Boucher were recognized at G.A.R. Park, along with Army veterans Stephen Bird and Donald Jarvis. Kevin Alder was also recognized.
Jarvis was ceremonially pinned in person at the event by his family. He received his Purple Heart earlier this year.
Landers, who was ambushed in Afghanistan in 2010, said he was shot in the head while stopped to render aid to other Marines after they had taken enemy fire. A Haverhill police officer, Landers, 34, was five months into his second tour when the convoy he was traveling with struck a roadside bomb and all four men inside had to be airlifted out of the zone to safety.
"As we were getting ready to go, I noticed nearby civilians had gone and were taking a much more dangerous route to avoid us, which is usually indicative of an ambush," he remembered. "I started to warn people of that, and as I was climbing up the truck to advise the vehicle gunner — the guy on top with the machine gun — a sniper opened fire initiating the ambush and struck me in the head. The round entered my helmet just above my left ear. If I took a deeper breath it would have been the end of me."
Rendered temporarily deaf and unconscious, once he came to, all Landers could think of was helping his fellow Marines, he said. It was only when he saw blood dripping from his own face that he realized he was the one injured. He received his Purple Heart medal while recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The Marines medically retired him in 2012.
A funeral director who left the family business to serve in the Marines in Iraq, Dracut's Daniel Cotnoir, 49, will be awarded his Purple Heart later this month — 17 years after his injury.
Recognized Saturday by the Methuen VFW, Cotnoir was originally fixing weaponry and working as a combat instructor before the Marines put him in charge of mortuary services — going into the battlefield to retrieve his dead brothers and sisters.
"I lovingly say I was 'volun-told,'" Cotnoir joked of the leadership role he held. "We would fight out onto the battlefield to recover those who were killed, recover those who died, and ... get them ready to fly them back home. It's a job that most people can't do, which is the same reason Navy SEALS and special forces are so rare."
On Sept. 6, 2004, his unit was training its replacements when supervisors asked for volunteers to retrieve lost soldiers along the dangerous outskirts of Fallujah. He went, climbing atop a vehicle with a 50-caliber machine gun in his hands.
"All of a sudden, the side of the road blows up," he said. "I took debris to the face. Nothing catastrophic, thank God, but I suffered a traumatic brain injury from the blast itself."
Thankfully, Cotnoir said no one in his unit was lost that day, or during the mission.
It makes him realize the significance of the Purple Heart medal he received.
"Not everyone has visible injuries but they earned it (the medal) and they need to be recognized," he said.
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