Published in the October 5, 2017 edition


NORTH READING — Camaraderie and patriotism go hand-in-hand and the town’s Veterans Director Susan Magner made certain that both were central to the 8th annual Dinner Social she and a small army of volunteers organized on Gold Star Mother’s Day, Sept. 24.

The months in between the formal civic celebration of Veterans’ Day and the solemn acknowledgement of warriors lost in battle on Memorial Day can be a lonely time for veterans, current service men and women and their families, all of whom carry the burdens of wars and long separations that the majority of us cannot fathom.

Gold Star families have lost loved ones in service to our country or to the ravages of wars and PTSD, and the burden of those losses on their families has also resulted in an epidemic of suicide that has produced a ripple effect in some families as well.

To help alleviate such burdens, Magner’s outreach to veterans and current soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen alike has involved bringing the community together each of the last eight Septembers for a celebration akin to a wedding and a memorial service rolled into a four-hour event. The message? You are not alone; the community will not turn its back on you and for those who need the extra hand, there are people willing and able to help you access services.

The celebration of patriotism at the dinner was displayed from start to finish beginning with the Presentation of the Colors by U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard of HQ Co. 25th Marine Regiment of Fort Devens during the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance.

The eyes of the audience were later drawn to the lone table set up in the center of the dance floor with five formal place settings but no guests to occupy the chairs. Each chair represents the POW/MIA of each branch of the military. The precision and respect with which the five young ladies representing the award-winning Lynn English Marine Corps Junior ROTC Cadets performed this “missing man” table presentation, as directed by Capt. Steve Castinetti, U.S. Navy Ret., captivated the silent audience.

The patriotic pageantry concluded the afternoon with two upbeat and impressive performances by the Lynn English Junior ROTC Marine Corp Drill Team. The precision routines by the rifle squad and the drill team left no doubt as to why they are the 2017 National Champions in their field.

Major Callahan recognized

The late Major Timothy Callahan, who passed away in July at age 96 and had served as the town’s Veterans’ Services Agent for 34 years, was recognized by many for both his devotion to veterans and, throughout his own military career, his devotion to duty that began when he enlisted in the Army Air Force in WWII as a 1st Lieutenant and became a heroic pilot of the B-26 Marauder in Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland. He completed 65 missions between 1943-45, well above the quota of 25. He rejoined the Air Force in 1949 and continued to serve through 1968.

His entire family was on hand at the social and Magner had his young grandchildren, Julia, 11, Timothy III, 9, and William, 7, lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Timothy also recalled one of his grandfather’s missions when he successfully crash landed a plane in a field in France in which everyone survived. The crew’s only other option would have been to parachute behind enemy lines.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr said he always looked forward to talking to Callahan over the years “because he so firmly represented the best values of the people that serve our country and the people that dedicate themselves to helping them.”

Tarr added that “in the turbulence of the times we live in we all reach out for something to hold onto that’s virtuous and strong and reliable. That thing is the memory of Tim Callahan. We need his spirit now more than ever. It’s a wonderful legacy, a wonderful gift and something that we all should be deeply appreciative of.”

In the Senate, Tarr explained to the family that they have a tradition “to recognize special people” by adjourning “the entire session of the Senate when someone has passed away or has done something noble.” He presented to the family the entire framed journal that he had read into the record in Callahan’s memory on the Senate floor on July 17, 2017. He presented a second framed copy of the Senate Adjournment Order to Magner to display in her office at Town Hall.

The journal states in part: “Over the course of his military career, Mr. Callahan survived two plane crashes. Throughout his service he earned numerous awards and commendations, including the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Distinguished Unit Citation, the Medal of Humane Action and the Purple Heart. After many years of service he retired as a major in 1968 from the United States Air Force. Even after leaving his post in the Air Force, Mr. Callahan served his community for another 34 years as Director of Veterans’ Services for the town of North Reading, retiring from this position at age 89. His unrelenting commitment to his country and constant dedication to the town of North Reading will not soon be forgotten by those who knew him. He is survived by his wife Genevieve E. Callahan, his son, Timothy Callahan Jr. and his wife Marie; grandfather to Julia, Timothy III and William.”

Tarr thanked Magner for “the opportunity to say thank you to all of the men and women who have served, all of the families who have sacrificed, and all of the people in this room who come together as one community to be able to stand by and for all of those who continue to serve and to ensure that they know when they march into harm’s way – when they stand between us and incredible terror – that we will stand with them and for them, and that we will always work to be supportive of them.”

The citizens of Massachusetts should be proud of the fact that the leadership in this state is committed to “supporting our veterans with a whole host of benefits and support systems that make sure that when they’ve served our country and they have made sacrifices on our behalf that we stand with them,” Tarr said.

Tarr emphasized the importance of having veterans’ services officers “at the local level who ensure” that veterans are made aware of and obtain the benefits to which they are entitled.

“I’ve been very proud to stand with Rep. Jones and our respective legislative bodies, and we’ve fought hard to make sure that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in support for our veterans.”

The Patriot Guard Riders also presented a plaque to the family in memory of Callahan.

Remembering the POW/MIA

State Rep. Brad Jones said he felt privileged to be in attendance at this event and appreciated the work done by Magner once again in preparing this annual event.

“In listening to the terrific presentation by Capt. Steve Castinetti and thinking about how privileged I was to have the first POW/MIA flag fly outside my office at the State House, and then to have the first chair outside my office, I am very proud of that, and that we were able to have that recognition and remembrance.”

“A couple years back we had a family in the town of Reading who got a call after they had identified the remains of a Korean War vet and he was flown home. It brought home to me not only the importance of the POW/MIA effort but that each and every day, our country and our military is working to locate, identify and repatriate servicemen and women. And I think that is just a tremendous story,” said Jones.

Jones added that he will have the honor to go to Reading again to “present some overdue recognition to a still-living member of the Bataan Death March. It is a tribute to our military that they don’t forget, and it should be a tribute not only to them but to each and every one of our service men and women that we don’t forget. These are kind of crazy political times we live in, if you haven’t noticed, but we should always remember that those debates and confrontations and disagreements are done under the umbrella of freedom that was erected over our head and remains over our heads as Americans because of the service and sacrifice of service men and women past, present and future, and to take a moment each and every day to remember, to be cognizant of the fact that service men and women serve sometimes in lonely outposts in lands far away while we go about our daily lives, ready, willing and able to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice.”

“And while we remember those service men and women, we need to remember their families because they’re sacrificing too. They’re serving, in their own way, each and every day. And when those service men and women hopefully come home we get to work with them and try to make sure their needs are met. Hopefully, for the most part we do a pretty good job, but we can always do a better job. We are so lucky to have Susan as the VSO officer in North Reading and people are able to reach out and get the services and help that they need,” Jones said.

Jones concluded by thanking his own dad, Brad Jones Sr., a Korean War veteran who would soon celebrate his 87th birthday.

Two Gold Star families

Two Gold Star families were in attendance as well. Carlos Arredondo has lost both of his sons, one to war and one to suicide. Lance Cpl. Alex Arredondo was killed by a sniper in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. The grief of his older brother’s death eventually led to the suicide of his younger son Brian in 2011.

Long before Carlos became famous for assisting first responders in saving the life of Jeff Bauman during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, he and his wife Melida had begun the nonprofit Arredondo Family Foundation to assist veterans and military families, especially those dealing with suicide, and to give them hope as well as the foundation and connections that will help them avoid the epidemic of suicide, which has been a taboo subject. Melida stated that in the battlefield, more soldiers are currently dying from suicide than being killed in action.

The Arredondos were proud to announce that the state has renamed the Jamaica Way Bridge in Jamaica Plain to honor both Alex and Brian. It is located a few blocks from where the boys grew up and Melida added doing so represents a significant change in attitude in society to name a structure after someone who had taken his own life. She believes this is an acknowledgement that the toll of war and loss of service members also has a ripple effect on their families that can manifest in increase risk for suicide.

In his keynote address, Gold Star dad and 1st Sgt. John Bernard, USMC (Ret.), who lost his only son, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, also a Marine, in Afghanistan to a sniper in 2009, gave an impassioned plea to military leaders to give up its “insane application of Counter Insurgency doctrine (COIN) which gives ground to the enemy while hampering the efforts of the American fighter.”

For him personally, Bernard believes “the greater need is to insure when this nation decides to sent American War Fighters into harm’s way, it is done so with a well-defined mission removing every obstacle that might prevent them from returning home victorious and alive.”

“COIN battlefield logic, which has been with us officially since 1940, has been a disaster of epic proportions, costing this nation trillions of dollars in war material…and costing this nation in excess of 500,000 dead and wounded while failing to deliver a single definable victory,” Bernard said. The only time since WWII when it was not employed was during the Persian Gulf War, and he said, this war ended in victory. He implores the American public to educate themselves and vote for leaders who will not continue to follow the “amoral COIN battlefield logic and rules of engagement.”

The afternoon ended with dancing and the awarding of dozens of raffle prizes.