Mount Greylock veterans tower memorial joins national list
ADAMS — A monument to state residents who served in World War I stands higher than any structure in Massachusetts, thanks to its placement atop Mount Greylock.
These days, it has got reason to sit up a little taller.
The Veterans War Memorial Tower in the Mount Greylock State Reservation has been named to an elite group of tributes to the Great War across the U.S.
The site was chosen this year to be honored by the "100 Cities/100 Memorials" program jointly run by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago.
Late Thursday morning, officials with each of those groups gathered atop Greylock to present the award and call for continued tributes to those who answer the military's call.
Their visit comes a year after the completion of $2.6 million in repairs to the 93-foot monument, whose beacon, in the right conditions, can be seen all the way to Boston.
"I share your pride in the restoration and rededication," said John D. Monahan of the centennial commission, who came from Essex, Conn., for the event. "I am heartened by the knowledge that this generation, too, has its heroes — citizens like you for whom the words `lest we forget' are a touchstone."
Monahan said later that in selecting sites to honor, the commission gave preference to ones that draw ongoing community support.
Rebecca Barnes, the Department of Conservation and Recreation's regional coordinator for the Greylock complex, applied for the "100 Memorials" designation this year. The honor comes with a $2,000 award from the Pritzker museum.
Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker, who served with the U.S Army from 1974 to 2001 and is the military museum's chairwoman, looked out across a small crowd assembled before a makeshift podium, flanked by an honor guard and color guard.
Pritzker recalled a recent visit to the Adams monument from her home in Chicago for a family gathering. She said returning to the monument brings memories of family.
"I wish all of you, too, have happy times here with your family. One way to memorialize the sacrifices of the veterans, and their deaths, is to bring new life," she said.
Pritzker noted that since World War I, as Americans fought in other conflicts, the tower's significance only grows.
"The meaning of this memorial has grown to include all the sons and daughters of Massachusetts that have served. Mount Greylock serves as a lasting symbol of sacrifice and Herculean effort," she said.
On behalf of her group, Pritzker presented a metal plaque noting the tower's inclusion on the list of 100 memorials to World War I.
Leo Roy, commissioner of the DCR, served as emcee for the ceremony, kicking it off as morning fog shrouded views that normally extend for dozens of miles. His agency oversees the reservation's 12,000 acres.
A string of officials took turns reflecting on the meaning of the new designation.
Francisco A. Urena, secretary of the Department of Veterans' Services, reeled off a list of services the state provides to veterans today, but noted the importance of looking back as well.
"Part of our role is also to remember that sense of history," he said, noting that 3,424 Massachusetts residents died serving during World War I.
"This tower today will continue to live as a beacon of remembrance to all those who have served not only in 1918 but long after and continued to serve," he said.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, noted his family's service in wartime and said memorials have deep meaning.
"It's by standing shoulder to shoulder that we give value to these memorials," Hinds said. "It's particularly relevant that we're standing under a flag and under a memorial that's honoring veterans because wars have impacted every single generation since World War I."
"Every generation is to be honored and its sacrifices be honored. We've dedicated the highest point in Massachusetts for this cause and this reason," he said.
State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, shared with the audience that he once worked on the reservation — but only for a day, since his car's brakes failed on his drive home. "I was probably the worst employee ever in that one day," he said.
But Barrett, who went on to serve for decades as mayor of North Adams, said the reservation's natural beauty and recreational options are important to him personally (he tells fellow lawmakers "I'm from God's country") and to the economy of the region.
He thanked the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker for investing in improvements to the tower, which had fallen into disrepair.
"So many times over the years, that light has been out and we've often wondered, `When is it going to come back on?' " Barrett asked.
While tourists and visitors might relish the vistas atop Greylock, Barrett said it's also important for them to understand the significance of the monument.
"We honor our veterans and we hold them in very high esteem," Barrett said.
James Bush, a member of the Adams Select Board, said the memorial might be the town's "most treasured landmark." An image of it appears on municipal stationery.
"Our residents traveling outside of the region always know they're home when they catch sight of the war memorial," Bush said.
Roy, the DCR commissioner, said the new designation adds to what he termed the rich history of the memorial, which was first dedicated at a 1933 ceremony that drew a crowd of 1,500 and was covered on live radio.
"This place belongs to the people of Massachusetts," Roy said of the monument.
The recent restoration fixed exterior masonry joints to prevent weather damage. The work also included repairs to the tower's ventilation, installation of a dehumidification system and revamp of electronics in the beacon itself. Outside the tower, steps were taken to improve accessibility, upgrade paths and install interpretive exhibits.
After public remarks, officials laid a wreath inside the tower.
By noon, the cloud sitting atop Greylock had dissipated, revealing the message carved in large letters on the tower:
"Erected by Massachusetts in grateful recognition of the loyalty and sacrifice of her sons and daughters in war. They were faithful even unto death."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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