SHIRLEY -- Thelma P. Katkin, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Nov. 8, was the special guest of honor at the Veterans Day ceremony Sunday morning, Nov. 11, at Whiteley Park.
She joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in 1943 and served until 1946, one of 150,000 women who served in the WAC during World War II.
Assigned first to the 2nd Signal Service Battalion and later to the Army Security Agency, Katkin's work was classified, said American Legion Post #183 Commander and Chaplain Charles Church. Apparently, to her, it still is. "To this day, she will not say anything about her work in the Army," he said.
But she had to hold secret or top-secret security clearance to do it, he said. And she must have been very good at her job, attaining the rank of T3 sergeant and earning several medals, including the Meritorious Unit Service Award.
Katkin received flowers. Her family returned the favor. They donated a wreath to the Legion, which a family member ceremoniously placed at the World War II monument.
The monument is one of several in the town's war memorial park, standing amid tall trees, grass and walkways and bearing the names of service men and women who lost their lives in the nation's wars and conflicts.
Patriotism is part of the fabric of this small town, where for many years the population included military men and women from nearby Fort Devens, and which now includes a number of military retirees and veterans. Many of those veterans belong to the local American Legion, George Morin Post #183, which sponsored the Veterans Day event.
The date and time are significant. On Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., an armistice halted the fighting in World War I. The war officially ended on June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, but the corresponding hour, month and day held such great significance that the United States Congress would later name Nov. 11 Armistice Day.
In that congressional resolution, signed in June, 1926, Congress called World War I "the most destructive ... and far-reaching war in human annals," and forwarded the hope that "the resumption ... of peace" between the United States and other nations the date commemorated would never again be severed. "It is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated," the document reads, in part.
In 1938, Nov.11, Armistice Day, became a national holiday, set aside as "a day dedicated to the cause of world peace" and "to honor World War I veterans. But in 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day, to honor veterans of all wars. By then, history had recorded that "the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation's history occurred during World War II, and American forces had fought in Korea.
On Oct. 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day proclamation. Although the intent of the holiday is now more inclusive, the date remains.