HARVARD -- Adding a new dimension to an established Veterans Day tradition in town, the P.J. Johnston Veteran of the Year award was doubled this year, presented in tandem to Maj. Steven M. Cronin, USA, retired, and his wife, Nancy J.F. Cronin, major, USA.
An ad-hoc committee comes up with a list of candidates for the award each year. This year, "the Cronins graciously accepted," Veterans Services Agent Dennis Lyddy said.
The award is presented to "veterans in good standing" who continue to do good work for their country and community, he explained.
The Cronins are active in town. He plans and coordinates Memorial Day observances, while she provides transportation to the event for veterans who need it.
Also, they were instrumental in identifying veterans' graves in the Center Cemetery and placing flags on all of them. One of their daughters (as a school community service project) helped do the same for Bellevue Cemetery in Still River, where Lyddy said 800 veterans' graves were located.
Steve Cronin received his commission "in our kitchen at Fort Hood," said his wife. During his 20-year military career, from 1976 to 1996, he also served in Europe, she said. His last assignment before retirement was at Fort Devens.
It was no accident that he was stationed close to home, but the commanding officer who made it possible, resident Duane Barber, didn't know at the time that he'd helped a local, Nancy said. "Steve's dad was sick," she explained.
After Germany, he was assigned to Senaca, N.Y., which was "too far" from his father's home in Harvard, she said. He was told that if the commander there would release him, "we could go to Devens," where he had a job lined up. Barber let him go.
The couple met as students at UMass, Amherst, where they belonged to a co-ed fraternity that frowned on romance between members, she said. "We dated secretly."
Then came the Vietnam war. Steve was drafted, she continued, but by joining the Army via the ROTC program, his active duty was postponed until graduation. His first tour of duty was in Hawaii. "It was beautiful," she said. "We were married on the beach."
Unable to find work in her field as a health inspector, she went back to school for a master's degree. Then, with Steve assigned to Fort Hood, Nancy still had not found a job. She joined the Army.
She later joined the reserves, earning a promotion from captain to major in the process. "He no longer outranks me," she said.
The Cronins both became teachers. She teaches kids with special needs. He teaches fifth-grade math and science. They have two daughters.