PEPPERELL -- Charlie Hodge has lived almost an entire lifetime since losing his best friend.
Billy McCarthy died in 1945, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. In the decades that followed, Hodge married, raised children and doted on dozens of grandchildren.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Hodge still carries memories of his friendship with McCarthy, and this holiday season, the Pepperell Senior Center gave him a forum to honor his lost friend's memory.
For the third year in a row, the center has lit a remembrance tree with ornaments commemorating the lives of the seniors' friends and loved ones who have died.
This year, they made a special ornament in honor of Billy McCarthy. Hodge placed it on a branch directly next to the ornament in remembrance of his wife.
"We were like brothers," Hodge said of his friend, who lived upstairs from him in Lowell when they were kids.
Hodge said Susan McCarthy, the activities coordinator at the center, made the ornament for him after hearing his story.
McCarthy also helped plan the event, which she said provides seniors with an opportunity to make sure their loved ones are not forgotten.
"I think it's something that's desperately needed at Christmastime, because they've lost someone. It's important to cry and to feel what they're feeling and not be afraid to show it," McCarthy said.
Hodge hung his ornament proudly, smiling as he found the perfect spot where the two remembrances could sit together. Although his wife and his best friend never met, he said both had huge influences on his life.
"It made life worth living," he said about meeting his wife. They were married for 61 years, before she passed away in 2010.
Since then, he's passed some of his free time at the center, where he comes every Wednesday.
"I try to walk as much as I can and keep busy," he said.
Dottie Harnish, a volunteer at the Senior Center, also hung two ornaments on the tree -- one for her husband, and one for her son, who died in October.
She described the tree-lighting on Dec. 6 as "a beautiful ceremony," with music and the reading of a poem called "A Letter from Heaven."
"It was like he was right there with us. There was no separation. It was like they came back to say 'we're here and we're okay,'" Harnish said.
For those who attended, Harnish said the ceremony provided comfort and solidarity.
"This is like a home away from home for a lot of people who come here. Having the tree and hanging the ornaments is like inviting a new family member in," she said.