GROTON -- In a moving ceremony marking Veterans Day, residents, town officials, and local veterans gathered on the green at Sawyer Common on a warm autumn afternoon to recognize the sacrifices made by service members both from Groton and around the nation.
The immediate object of the Nov. 11 event, however, was the dedication of a new memorial commemorating a quartet of Groton natives who gave their lives in service of their country, including PFC Carol G. Wheeler, Sgt. Darren J. Cunningham, Spec. Terrance F. Kane, and Sgt. William J. Woitowicz, all of whom made the supreme sacrifice on battlefields ranging from Korea to Afghanistan.
The new memorial joins others already located at Sawyer Common but among which lacked a marker dedicated specifically to those who died in wars that took place after World War II.
Noting the oversight, local Boy Scout David Fitzpatrick decided to do something about it and made establishment of the memorial his Eagle Scout project.
"I'm very glad so many people came to this dedication," said Fitzpatrick of the scores of residents and many veterans from all of the nation's conflicts who attended last Sunday's event. "I used to drive by the common every day by bus and wondered if I could do anything. Today will be something I'll remember as being very important to me."
Sunday's event began at noon with former state Rep. Robert Hargraves ringing a bell and after its solemn tones had echoed into silence, offered a prayer
In his opening remarks, Parks Commission Chairman Donald Black observed that while scanning greeting cards in a local pharmacy, he noticed that although there were cards covering every kind of holiday and purpose, there were none offering thanks to veterans.
There were no cards giving thanks to those who stormed the beach at Normandy, endured the bad climate in Korea, or tramped through the jungles of southeast Asia, said Black.
But recognizing veterans and showing gratefulness for their service was "not Hallmark's job," said Black, "that's our job."
After a moment of silence and the playing of the national anthem, Black introduced Fitzpatrick, describing the Scout's project to an admiring crowd.
At that point, Fitzpatrick was presented with a citation from the state Legislature by Rep. Sheila Harrington.
Noting how important the new memorial will be for the community, Harrington also lamented the fact that there were no greeting cards available offering thanks to veterans.
"If we didn't have Veterans Day, we may not have had Thanksgiving," said Harrington of the freedoms secured by veterans that have allowed everyone else to celebrate the holiday. "We're so grateful for all you have done. Your compassion, kindness, and bravery not only inspires us but has become the hope of the world."
At that point in the ceremony, a number of local veterans, including John Babcock (Marines), Joseph Garza (Army), Robert Hall (Army), and Sgt. Andrew Garza (Army) stood to lay flowers at each of four plaques embedded in the ground before the new memorial bearing the names of Groton's fallen sons.
That done, Fitzpatrick then formally unveiled the memorial stone faced with a plaque embedded in its surface emblazoned with the words "Gold Star Memorial."
The unveiling was followed by a song performed by Pepperell resident Pat Kenneally titled "Hang a Blue Star in the Window," which reminded everyone that they also serve who stand and wait.
Finally, Planning Board and School Committee member as well as U.S. Army veteran John Giger took the microphone to thank Fitzpatrick and the estimated 48 million men and women who served in the nation's armed forces throughout history for their "unwavering belief in the cause of freedom."
War is a grim paradox that can bring out the best in men while at the same time the worst, noted Giger, something that veterans know all too well as they continue to serve in "lonely outposts around the world."
Giger thanked those veterans in attendance for their service and sacrifice as well as those residents who took the time to attend last Sunday's event before officially giving voice to the words of dedication for the new memorial.
In an impressive display of local residents' ongoing involvement with all branches of the armed forces, groups of veterans took turns stepping up to the new memorial to offer their own moments of silence to fallen comrades before the entire assembly moved on to the common's flagpole, where the star-spangled banner was lowered and replaced with a new flag.
Sunday's dedication, however, was not the only such event held in Groton over Veterans Day weekend.
On Nov. 10, a separate memorial was also dedicated at Stonebridge Field.
Also an Eagle Scout project, the memorial was a stone displaying a plaque dedicated to the memory of Sgt. William J. Woitowicz, who was killed in Afghanistan last year in an heroic effort to save other members of his squad.