Several members of the veterans’ community in Charlestown, led by the Town’s foremost authority on such matters, Billy Durette, have been carefully compiling a treasure trove of stories surrounding veterans from Charlestown who served during World War II and World War I.
It’s an effort called the Charlestown Veterans History Project, and residents were treated to the first-fruits of that effort last Saturday afternoon at the Knights Hall – where a handful of detailed stories about Charlestown veterans were presented in outstanding detail.
“This is just a smattering of what we have,” said Durette on Saturday. “There are so many stories to tell. The goal of our project is to collect all the stories of what every veteran from Charlestown did during every war. I’ve done a great study of those who have served from our neighborhood. I would venture to say no one has done it to this extent. If you watch Ken Burns’s documentaries, he’ll focus on a few people, but not on the mass of one area. We had more than 300 Purple Hearts here in Charlestown in World War II.”
An estimated 5,000 served from Charlestown in World War II and about the same number came from the Town in World War I. Many of their stories were partially known, or not known at all until the Project got underway.
There was the recently uncovered story of Lt. Commander John F. Delaney Jr., who was an engineering officer on the USS Yorktown in WWII. Delaney was born in Charlestown and graduated Boston Latin and the Naval Academy. He was on the Yorktown during the Battle of the Midway and received a Silver Star for his actions on that day.
“Lt. Delaney was the engineer on that ship, and in the 1976 movie ‘Midway,’ Larry Csonka played the engineer in that movie,” said Durette. “We now know Csonka was playing John Delaney from Charlestown. Who would have known? He remained in the Navy and eventually became an admiral. He’s buried in Annapolis. This was a real score. That was one I just found out about, fresh off the presses.”
Then there is also the WWI story of 1st Lt. Walter Avery, who was one of the country’s first war aviators. He attended Boston Public Schools growing up in Charlestown and graduated from Tufts in 1914. He was one of eight chosen to go to flying school, and then was one of 50 sent to fly missions with the British.
In 1918, while flying at low altitude, his plane was hit by machine gun fire and he went down.
“He was shot down behind enemy lines, was captured, escaped, then was captured again and finally made it through past enemy lines,” said Durette. “We actually have video of him during his service.”
Overall, Durette said he and others are very proud of what they’ve accumulated and believe it will be invaluable to generations to come. He said it’s something that, having been raised in Charlestown, he felt compelled to do.
“You come in at an early age and you see the Parade and the Battle of Bunker Hill re-enactment and you grow up around so many veterans,” he said. “You’re almost born a patriot when you live here. That’s the best way to say it.”