SALEM — Some of retired police Chief Bob St. Pierre’s earliest memories of his department was a bronze plaque honoring an officer who “has remained an enigma for me and all the officers of my generation, who served at the old Central Street police station.”
“Even his bronze plaque had been lost to time,” St. Pierre said, looking over a large crowd that turned out for Salem’s Veterans Day exercises on Friday, Nov. 11. He then issued instructions to an officer in the back, at which point the lost plaque emerged, came forward, and was visible to all for the first time in more than 35 years: “In solemn recognition of the inspirational character of Lt. Philip A. McCarthy, U.S. Army.”
“The Salem Police Department gratefully preserves the memory of a brother officer, killed in action,” the plaque continues, “Hurtgan Forest, Strass, Germany, on Dec. 11, 1944.” (Hürtgen Forest is misspelled on the plaque.)
“We haven’t forgotten Philip McCarthy,” St. Pierre said.
To celebrate Veterans Day, Salem officials organized a square dedication in front of the police headquarters on Margin Street. The space in front of the police station is now named McCarthy Square to remember and honor McCarthy’s death in World War II.
“For me, the name Philip McCarthy was a name on a bronze plaque at the old Salem police headquarters at 17 Central St.,” St. Pierre said. “As a boy, I remember hearing my father speak of the Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. I asked him one day if he knew Philip McCarthy or anything about Philip McCarthy. He said he didn’t, but told me a number of Salem veterans had served during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.”
When McCarthy died, he left behind no children. He had siblings and parents, but as time went on, Salem’s connection with McCarthy faded. With the erection of a new police station on Margin Street and the old station redeveloped as housing, the plaque vanished. It seemed, his name had been said for the final time.
Lest, McCarthy was forgotten. Or so it seemed.
“Bob is a 30-year veteran of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) and a historian in his own right,” St. Pierre said, pointing to Robert Mulligan, assistant to Chief Lucas Miller and his predecessors, standing a ways from the spotlight. “Bob spent countless hours of research to make this day possible. His efforts filled in the blanks and brought to life the name of Patrolman Philip McCarthy.
“Philip McCarthy, a true son of Salem, was born on Jan. 16, 1910,” St. Pierre said. “He grew up on Northey Street and later Holly Street. His father was the city electrician, and Philip worked as a driver for a grocery firm and petroleum company before being appointed a reserve officer with the Salem Police Department on April 25, 1938.”
He was 28 years old at the time. Close to three years later, days away from turning 31, he joined the Army. He was later released under the 28-year-old deferment policy that capped service for soldiers who reached a certain age. He became a permanent patrolman on Feb. 21, 1942 — close to two months after re-entering the conflict in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, according to records uncovered by Mulligan.
Through nearly three years of service, McCarthy rose to the rank of first lieutenant, and his last assignment was with the 774th Tank Battalion. He died on Dec. 11, 1944, in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest in Germany, at the age of 34.
St. Pierre read the announcement that was made to officers back home on Jan. 5, 1945, when word of his death formally came home.
“It is with great regret that we record the death of Philip A. McCarthy, 1 Holy St., Salem, who was killed in action in Germany,” the announcement read. “He was an outstanding member of our department — able, fearless, and conscientious in all his endeavors, and always fulfilled all assignments in a very satisfactory manner. Our department has lost a very valuable member in the city of Salem, an A-1 member.”
McCarthy’s body returned to Salem on Dec. 15, 1947, St. Pierre explained. An eight-member Salem police detail accompanied his remains as they made their final journey to a family plot at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Salem.
“It should be noted,” St. Pierre said, “there’s no veteran’s marker at Lt. McCarthy’s grave. I think we’re going to change that.”