Anne Horrigan Geary: Remembering my veterans

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DALTON — The house where I grew up had a dark, dusty attic, lit by one small window at the front. As with most attics, it was full of forgotten treasures, and boxes of Christmas decorations which did see the light of day once a year. Under the eaves there was a pile of old boards and one curious object — a dark green canvas-sided suitcase.

I don't remember how it got there, but in its first life it belonged to my Uncle Frank and he used it when he was in the U.S. Army. Francis Vincent Doyle was born — and lived all his life — in New Jersey. He married my mother's sister, Antonia — the adventurous one — who went to work in New York City after she finished business school.

Uncle Frank worked in Manhattan too, employed by the United States Postal Service at the main branch, sorting mail. When zip codes were being introduced, he had to memorize all the cities and towns in Florida so he could sort that mail more quickly. He liked to bowl and play golf, he was a devout Catholic, and he was the best storyteller in the entire world.

He didn't talk much about his time in the Army during World War II, but I know he was stationed at a weather-monitoring installation in Greenland. I have a few photos of him and his fellow soldiers taken in the snow. He said it was colder and icier there than in Iceland. He looked very handsome in his dress uniform, kind of like an Irish Cary Grant.

By the time I knew him, he was still handsome, but more importantly he was a kind, gentle and generous man — a true gentleman. He took me to the New York World's Fair, to lots of baseball games, and escorted me down the aisle the day of my wedding. He was the best.

Everett Sylvester Horrigan, known to his friends as "Babe," was my father's middle brother. He lived his life in Pittsfield, and died in his early 50s six months before my Dad. Although their father was well over six feet tall, both brothers took after their mother's shorter stature. Both had an awesome laugh and an easy-going manner. Both were hard workers, often working two jobs, and both died too early of cancer.

Uncle Everett always sat with one leg stretched out in front of him and walked with a limp. He was also in the Army, stationed in Italy during World War II where he was wounded. I don't know any more than that — Horrigans in general are tight-lipped about anything personal — but I do have a studio portrait of him in his Army uniform that was among my grandmother's possessions.

When he died he was working for the Pittsfield Fire Department in the signal division on Tyler Street. As his funeral cortege passed the Pecks Road fire station on the way to the cemetery, it paused there and the fire bell was rung. I thought it a very fitting tribute to a gentle man who quietly served others.

These two men, and the thousands of other men and women who served their country in the armed forces, were ordinary citizens who stopped what they were doing when duty called, and — if they were lucky — returned to life at home. Their service is recalled every May when flags are displayed at their graves, another silent acknowledgment of their patriotism. Today, we remember them again at local gatherings and parades.

Veterans Day is a day to honor those who served our country in a special way. They put on uniforms and learned how to fire weapons. They went where they were told — all over the globe — to protect our way of life. Their lives were changed in many ways, but they are still our parents, siblings, uncles and aunts. We will always be proud of them and their service.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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