BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — For more than three years, Bruce Eaton had orchestrated a campaign to name the playing fields at Danvers’ Thorpe School the Danvers Veterans Memorial Fields to honor the town’s veterans and to create a permanent memorial.
Everything had gone relatively smoothly. Until last Monday, that is.
With just a week until Veterans Day, the day the massive granite marker and plaque were supposed to be unveiled, there was a problem: The plaque was bent. It wouldn’t fit on the nice flat stone the group had worked so hard to find, architect Robert Farley said.
In the end, it took a lot of phone calls and a few sleepless nights, “right down to the wire,” Farley said. But the job got done, and yesterday, on a perfect, sunny fall morning, the people of Danvers dedicated the new memorial.
More than 200 people filled the auditorium at Thorpe School to celebrate and honor those Danvers residents who sacrificed to serve their country. After that, they walked outside to dedicate the new memorial.
Eaton, a World War II Army Air Corps veteran, president of the Danvers Veterans Council and adjutant of the town’s American Legion Post 180, had reached out to many people in town to complete the project.
Farley, a member of the Danvers Rotary Club and also an Army veteran who served in Korea, had taken part in other public-service projects for the town, including the Pavilion at Mill Pond and the Witchcraft Trials Victims Memorial on Hobart Street.
He was looking for a new project when he ran into Peter Mirandi, who runs the town’s health and veterans affairs departments. Mirandi suggested that Farley speak to Eaton.
The Danvers Youth Soccer and Youth Lacrosse programs had raised money toward the cost of a wooden sign, which was completed last spring with donations from Timberline Industries and the McKenzie Group, a construction business in town.
But Farley and Eaton talked about a more lasting memorial, a bronze plaque on a nice slab of Danvers granite.
Farley, an architect, designed the 3-foot-wide plaque. A plaque that size would need a big stone, he said.
Another Rotary member, Barry Kaplan, who was president at the time, arranged to have the plaque cast through Mt. Pleasant Monuments in Gloucester. They, in turn, had sent the drawing to a foundry outside Pittsburgh, which would make the plaque for $2,500.
Meanwhile, Farley searched for a stone.
“To find a stone of that size, in granite, with a flat face on it,” would be a tall order, Farley told the group of residents yesterday. “I searched the fields and I searched the woods for five months.”
But the only suitable stones he saw were on private property.
Then, during a Rotary meeting a few months ago, he was talking to Joe DeLorenzo, co-owner of the Danversport Yacht Club.
“Stones?” he quoted DeLorenzo as saying. “I’ve got enough stones to start a granite quarry. Take a look around.”
Eventually, they found the perfect slab of granite, sticking out of an embankment.
J. Masterson Construction agreed to yank the 21/2-ton boulder from the ground and bring it to Thorpe School for free. But first, they took the time to clean it up and then dug a hole for it at the school, lining it with gravel. The stone went into the ground.
It would take six weeks to get the plaque, however, and Farley was getting anxious. It had to be done by Veterans Day.
Then came the news that the plaque had arrived, bent. It couldn’t be mounted to the stone.
Some calls back and forth resulted in the foundry agreeing to rush to make a new plaque. What had originally taken six weeks got done in two days, express-shipped to Danvers.
The new plaque arrived Wednesday. On Friday, an employee of the monument company drove to Danvers and began drilling the holes. The work continued until it got dark, then resumed on Saturday.
Finally, the plaque was affixed to the stone. On Sunday, with just hours to go before the ceremony, the edges were sealed.
The ceremony included patriotic songs by the Danvers Girl Scouts and the Danvers High School Chamber Singers; the Pledge of Allegiance led by Bruce Sweeter, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2359 and a color guard; an invocation by the Rev. Michael Doyle of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church; and Boy Scouts to guide the guests.
The Danvers Alarm List, a group of American Revolution re-enactors, delivered gun salutes.
Before the dedication, the crowd heard from retired Army National Guard Capt. Charles Gould, who now serves as commander of the American Legion Post 180 in Danvers.
Gould, 50, recounted his experiences serving in Bosnia in 1996, where what was supposed to be a nine-month deployment went a bit longer.
“The Army forgot we were there,” he quipped.
A few years later, in 2004, he was told he was heading back to Bosnia. But then, while the preparations were underway, his unit was instead ordered to Iraq, where he was at one point stationed in Tikrit and got to see one of Saddam Hussein’s legendary golden bathrooms.
But his lighthearted recounting of his service took a more somber tone as he read the words to the bugle call, taps, his voice breaking.
“That was heartrending,” Eaton said, as the crowd stood and applauded in tribute to Gould.