As Charlestown native Billy Durette looked out from Hays Square, with 128 American flags in a backpack that he was ready to tote through the Town last Saturday, he said there was an odd sense of remembrance that came over him.
He could look out from that spot, and feel and know the men and women that lived in the homes around him and died with valor in World War II. The same was true as he walked up Bunker Hill Street and back down Main Street – so many of the places he had learned about in his exhaustive research on the Charlestown Veterans Project were coming to life with every step.
“So many of those that died came from the Hays Square area and I wanted to start there on my walk because of that,” he said. “I stood in Hays Square and could point to the homes of at least 36 of these men lived who were killed in the war…I stopped at 88 Ferrin St. too. I looked up there because I knew two different guys that lived there and were killed in the war. I walked by a few Hero Square signs and I knew how they were all killed too from my research. I have read a lot of the letters these men sent home to their mothers, and also the telegrams their families got saying their sons had been killed. I was really thinking about how all that felt, and I was remembering them. It was very meaningful.”
Durette has led the Charlestown Veterans History Project for some time, and has done amazing research on the Town and its veterans – particularly those that paid the ultimate price. To recognize the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on Aug. 16 – the formal end of World War II – he decided to walk from Hays Square to the World War II Monument in City Square and plant 128 flags in front of it. There were 126 for the men, and two for the women – all of them from Charlestown.
The idea of remembering was what made it so powerful for Durette, and he said part of the reason he has continued his research so vigorously is so it can be passed on to a younger person – as the concept of remembering these veterans was passed on to him.
“They died a long time ago and here I am remembering them and I hope someone else does too when I’m gone,” he said. “Part of the reason I do this is to inspire younger people to remember also. One of the best compliments I ever got was in an e-mail from a World War II veteran some time ago. He wrote, ‘Thank you for remembering us’ and there was nothing better that could have been said.”
Among those in attendance when he arrived at City Square was Anthony Salvato. His family was present at the unveiling of the World War II Monument in City Square in 1946, and he lost two brothers in the war – Candeloro Salvato and Lt. Francis J. Salvato. Other visitors included Helen Carpenter, whose cousin George Ferry was killed on a submarine in the war, and Judy Burton, niece of John Noonan who was killed on Omaha Beach in the war.