HARVARD -- This year, Harvard Veteran of the Year honors where shared by Robert Cummings of Harvard and Peter Johnston of Ayer. The P.J. Johnston Award is named for Johnston's late twin brother, Paul Johnston, who passed away in November 2009. The ceremony took place on Veterans Day at the Hapgood Library.
Born in 1922 in Idaho, Robert Cummings had two children with his first wife. Cummings remarried in 1959 to Nancy Cummings, who was ill and unable to attend Sunday's ceremony with her husband.
Cummings is a retired master sergeant of the U.S. Army with many awards and decorations, but his Army career followed his U.S. Navy career, during which he served in the Pacific aboard the destroyer USS Richard W. Suesens.
Cummings joined the Navy in June 1945 and survived combat in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, the Battle of Surigao Strait, and the Battle off Samar Island. Cummings was discharged in June 1947.
Cummings enlisting in the Army in July 1955, entered military intelligence, and served in Vietnam. Upon his return, Robert and Nancy moved wherever Robert was stationed until his retirement on Aug. 31, 1969, from Fort Devens.
The couple has resided in Harvard for the past 42 years. Cummings is now enjoying his second retirement from Digital Credit Union. Cummins also ran a small business for 20 years.
Born on Boston in 1928, Peter Johnston was raised in Harvard with his twin brother, Paul. Peter was married to the late Cathleen Johnston, who passed away five years ago. Many Johnston family members were present, as the couple had six children, 12 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
Harvard Veterans' Services Agent Dennis Lyddy said Johnston made his mark on local institutions -- too many to list -- but singled out Johnston's longtime involvement with the Boy Scouts; the Knights of Columbus; his service as a church lector; his tenure with the Ayer Fire Department, where he rose to the rank of deputy chief; and his involvement in Ayer municipal government.
The Johnston twins stood side by side in 2008 as they were given medals they'd earned but never collected -- National Defense Service Medals and Army Good Conduct Medals.
The Harvard Veteran of the Year award has since been dubbed the Paul "PJ" Johnston Award in honor of Peter Johnston's late brother.
Peter Johnston served in the U.S. Army from December 1950 to December 1952 and was stationed in Thule, Greenland. The brothers served at the same time, in the same amphibious unit, providing supplies to all branches of the military.
Harvard Selectman and U.S. Navy veteran Ron Ricci had his work cut out for him on Sunday, pinning medals long ago earned by 89-year-old Charles Harrah. Harrah and his wife of 24 years, Joyce Harrah, had five children and 13 grandchildren.
Harrah served from Dec. 1942 until April 1946, when he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. Harrah served with the 66th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Division as part of combat operations from the last days of the Battle of the Bulge to the end of World War II.
As part of the 66th, Harrah was with the first American unit to reach the Elbe River, the river designated as the stop line for U.S. forces to prevent clashes with the Soviets, our allies at the time. The 66th was also the first U.S. unit to enter and occupy Berlin at the end of the war.
Harrah was given the Bronze Star, the American Theater Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. Harrah was also given his combat infantryman badge and honorable service lapel button.