From the colonial wars of the 1600s to the present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Woburn residents have left home to fight on their country’s battlefields.
Now, the city has found a way to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of its war veterans. All of them.
Last Sunday, the city dedicated a new memorial on the Woburn common with the names of 11,665 residents who have served in the military during times of war, from the mid-17th century to today.
The Woburn Honor Roll is a gift to the city from the Friends of Woburn Veterans, an all-volunteer group that oversaw the two-year project. A local philanthropist, John P. Flaherty, and his wife, Kathryn, funded the approximate $650,000 cost.
Larry Guiseppe, the city’s veterans’ service officer and chairman of the Friends group, said that based on his research, he believes the Woburn memorial to be “the only monument in the United States to have the names of all war veterans listed in one single place.”
“It tells the history of Woburn, and it is just a thank you to the veterans and their families for the services they provide, to not only the country but to Woburn,” he said.
The names of the veterans are laser-etched on the 26 black granite panels of the memorial. Also etched on to the stones are 36 wartime photos depicting each era. Four benches are arranged around the memorial.
About 5,000 people turned out Sunday for the dedication and the city’s annual Veterans Day ceremony that preceded it.
“I think it’s one of a kind and it means a lot to the city,” Mayor Scott D. Galvin said. “The turnout was fabulous. It was just a great show of support for the veterans of the city.”
Guiseppe said many veterans were moved to see the monument, which was unveiled at the dedication. A Vietnam War veteran, Guiseppe is listed on the memorial, as is his late father and late father-in-law, both of whom served in World War II.
“I don’t think there was a veteran there that probably didn’t have a tear in their eye when they saw his or some family member’s name on the wall,” he said.
Guiseppe said what became the Honor Roll project began in February, 2010, when Galvin, who had just appointed him veterans service officer, asked Guiseppe to explore the possibility of replacing or renovating the World War II monument on the common.
“It had deteriorated beyond repair,” Guiseppe said of the wood and brick monument, which was built in 1947. “He told me there was no money in the budget for [a project], but he knew I would come up with some ideas.”
About a month later, Guiseppe spoke with Bob Shure, who runs a sculpture business in Woburn, Skylight Studios, whose specialties include creating monuments and memorials.
Guiseppe said he approached Shure about replacing the old World War II monument with a new monument Shure would build with names inscribed on granite walls in the style of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington. Shure said he was interested.
The two began informally pursuing the plan, which at that time called for a memorial for Woburn veterans of World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. With the support of Galvin and the City Council, Guiseppe in the summer of 2011 created the Friends group to help advance the project.
“We had no money, just four or five sketches and some ideas,” Guiseppe said.
The Friends group began raising funds and gathering names for the memorial, which at some point they agreed would be expanded to include Woburn veterans from all the nation’s wars.
Guiseppe said a key source of information for the research effort was the records of Woburn war veterans that Kathy Lucero, a Friends member who belongs to the Woburn Historical Society, provided from the society’s collection. In response to a public request, local families also submitted the names of relatives who had served in wartime.
As the number of names grew, Guiseppe said the group realized it would need a significant fund-raising boost to pay for the size of the monument. As of September 2011, the projected cost had grown to at least $500,000 and the group had raised only about $40,000.
It was at that time that Flaherty contacted Guiseppe to say he wanted to help. Initially, he promised to be the “last donor” who would complete the fund drive. Several days later, he called back to say he and his wife wanted to fund the entire project, Guiseppe said.
The CEO of a Chelmsford business, ADA Solutions, Flaherty has donated to other causes in the city, including about three years ago when he paid for construction of four tennis courts at the high school, as well as a press box and accompanying handicap ramp at the football stadium.
Flaherty said he decided to fund the memorial in part to honor the memory of his late father, John J. Flaherty, a World War II veteran whose name was not listed on the World War II memorial. “And I like doing stuff for the city,” he said.
“It was a community effort,” said Flaherty, who is a member of the Friends group. “A lot of people were involved. My part was pretty easy . . . I paid for it.”
Shure prepared a final design and built the memorial in September. A Vermont company supplied the granite and did the etching work.
The money raised before Flaherty stepped in will be set aside in a fund to provide for perpetual maintenance of the monument. For now, some of it will be used to add about 150 names that the Friends learned about only after the etching was completed.