Vietnam vet shares memories at Meredith ceremony

MEREDITH — ''We were like tunnel rats but we were in the water instead,'' U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran Chuck Thorndike told those attending a rain-dampened Veterans Day observance at the POW-MIA Memorial site in Hesky Park yesterday.
Thorndike was describing his service aboard a 50-foot-long Swift Boat that worked the coastal waters and rivers of Vietnam with Coastal Division 12's Swift Boat Unit, part of the so-called ''Brown Water Navy," which was used to try and halt the movement of Viet Cong troops and supplies into South Vietnam. He said it was fraught with danger, just like that facing soldiers who went into the Viet Cong's tunnel system to try and track them down.
He served in the Navy from 1967 to 1970, first as a radar man aboard the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard, and later aboard a Swift Boat.
He said that his experience in the war was much like that of many others who also served there and recalls that when he and others were sent home after completing their tour of duty in 1970 they were told to wear civilian clothes so that they wouldn't call attention to themselves and be confronted by Vietnam War protesters.
''It's a lot different today. Service members are greeted with thanks for their service and are proud to have served their country,'' said Thorndike.
Thorndike, the retired president of Annalee Mobilitee Dolls Co. Inc. has continued to serve his community over the years in a number of positions, including as youth league soccer and ski coach, Scout leader, Meredith Rotary member, and chairman and board member of Lakes Region Visiting Nurses and Meredith Village Savings Bank.
He said many of those he served with on the Swift Boat would later experience post-traumatic stress disorder and require the services of the Veterans Administration to help them deal with the problems, something which he said the current generation of service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan also face.
Thorndike said his own experience with the Veterans Administration has shown him how valuable its services are and how much they are needed by the newest generation of veterans.
The town of Meredith has created a supportive and caring environment for veterans, like the spirit shown by those who turned out on damp and drizzly day yesterday to honor veterans and thanked Bob Jones, one of the leaders in establishing the state's original POW-MIA memorial, and former Griggs-Wyatt Post 33 American Legion Cmmdr. Robert Kennelly for their roles on organizing events to honor veterans.
"Veterans Day, a time veterans and all can come together and show how we care for those who have served this country – and no community does it better than Meredith and no better place than where it's written in stone," said Bob Jones, who spoke briefly at the service next to the POW-MIA memorial in Hesky Park.
Earlier, veterans had marched from the American Legion post up Main Street to the town library, where Kennelly and fellow veteran Elliott Finn spoke after opening remarks by State Senator Jeanie Forrester, who told the veterans ''our flag flies higher and prouder because you have served.''

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Laconia honors veterans

LACONIA — Yesterday, at the 11th hour of the 11 day in the 11 month, when 97 years ago the armistice ended the First World War, some 100 people gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1670 to mark Veterans Day by remembering, honoring and thanking all those, both quick and dead, who have served in the armed forces of the United States.

"Mother Nature has never been a good friend of mine," said Bill North, the post commander, as he opened the celebration at Post 1670 on Court Street as rain fell on Veterans Square.

Originally celebrated as Armistice Day to signal all quiet on the western front in 1918, Nov. 11 became Veterans Day in 1954. After being moved to the fourth Monday in October in 1971, Veterans Day was restored to its original date and time in 1978.

In his keynote address, Mayor Ed Engler recalled President Ronald Reagan, speaking at the Vietnam War Memorial in 1988, when he said "for long a time, they stood in a chill, as if on a winter night's watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we heard them not."
But, Reagan continued the night is over. We see these men and women and know them once again."

The mayor also called to mind the words of President John F. Kennedy, spoken amid the tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery in 1961, noting that they seem to ring as true today as they did then. "In a world tormented by tension and the possibilities of conflict ... in an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible."

Acknowledging his privilege to speak for all residents of the city, Engler said while the day in an occasion to thank all veterans, it is natural to "focus our thoughts on specific individuals who hold special places in our hearts and minds."

The mayor then turned to Don O'Hara, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 90. In the winter of 1944-1945, O'Hara was a 20-year-old soldier in the 3rd Army commanded by Gen. George Patton. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his valor the fierce fighting in bitter cold remembered as the Battle of Bulge. But, rather than recall his heroism, Engler said, O'Hara preferred to recount a short conversation he had with his commanding officer.

Engler said that O'Hara's Jeep became mired in the mud of Belgian road just as Patton's convoy was trying to pass by.

"Patton stands in his own jeep, looks down at Don and says, 'Soldier, get that damn Jeep off the road,'" Engler continued. "'Yes,sir' was all he remembered saying."

"Don," the mayor said, "I am thinking of you today. I miss you. Thank you for being a friend. And on behalf of all of us, thank you for your extraordinary service to our country."

Ray Peavey, commander of American Legion Wilkins-Smith Post 1 noted that less than a tenth of all Americans are veterans of the armed forces and spoke of the "high cost of being a veteran — blood, sweat and sacrifice."

North urged everyone to talk to a veteran, listen to a veteran and thank a veteran, whose service has ensured the freedom and security enjoyed and cherished by all Americans.

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Smiths honored for charitable efforts with Irwin award

MEREDITH ­— Robert and Miriam Smith of Gilford, who have been described as quiet and generous givers to numerous causes in the Lakes Region, were presented with the Irwin Award at the annual Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Hero awards held last night at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith.
The Smiths were honored for the major gift they made recently to the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, which helped the club purchase the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street and turn it ino the club's new home.
They also seeded the Holy Trinity Endowment Trust with a $500,000 gift and gave $25,000 a year to provide scholarships which allow underprivileged children to attend the school.
The Smiths are also strong supporters of the New Hampshire Humane Society and have in the past provided support for the Prescott Farm Environmental Center on White Oaks Road.
Smith, a former treasurer of American Express Corp., was also a partner in Car Component Technologies of Bedford, which manufactured automobile parts. The business was sold in 1999.
The 65,000-square-foot Thomas F. Sullivan Arena at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, which was built in 2003, is named in memory of Mrs. Smith's father in recognition of an unrestricted gift from the Smiths.
The Irwin Award, which honors James Irwin Sr., founder of Irwin Marine and Irwin's Winnipesaukee Gardens, is presented to those who portray service to the Lakes Region, is a community leader and demonstrate a spirit of progress in the community.
Other nominees included Frank Roche, owner of Roche Realty; Marc Bourgeois, president of MB Tractor, and Ed Engler, president and founder of The Laconia Daily Sun.
The J. Bart Connors Award for dedication to the mission of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce was presented to Christine Harris, an active volunteer in many capacities with the chamber, who is senior vice president of retail banking at Meredith Village Savings Bank.
The Public Service Award, sponsored by Eversource and awarded to a person who has shown leadership and charity in public service went to Chuck and Lisa Drew of Franklin, whop created Every Child is Ours, a charity which raises money to provide food for more than 75 schoolchildren.
The Hurst Award, sponsored by Franklin Savings Bank for those showing passion for the betterment of the Greater Franklin Community, was awarded to Jeff and Beverly Brewer for their work on behalf of the Franklin Animal Shelter.
The Young Professional Award, sponsored by he Belknap Economic Development Council, went to Christopher Walkley, vice president of commercial banking with the Bank of New Hampshire, who is president of the New Hampshire Humane Society board of directors.
The Student Leader Award winner was Sophia Joyal, a sophomore at Laconia High School, a volunteers coach with the Winnipesaukee Warriors Special Olympics Team who is also a representative for Miss New Hampshire Outstanding Teen.

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