Memorial Honors Heroes Of World War I
Events are taking place to mark the centennial of World War I. One such commemoration highlighted the heroism of an infantry unit made up largely of soldiers from western Massachusetts.
On a small plot of land called the Apremont Triangle where three busy streets intersect on the edge of downtown Springfield sits a small rock monument with a faded bronze plaque. It pays tribute to the first American military unit ever awarded a foreign decoration for valor during battle.
Named after Apremont, France, where the 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division of the Massachusetts National Guard was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the memorial park was dedicated by the city of Springfield in 1926.
Until earlier this week, it had been decades since any type of commemorative ceremony was held at Apremont Triangle.
Brian Willette, Western Massachusetts Chapter 875 Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, organized the ceremony, along with the city’s Veterans Services Department, to honor the 104th.
" You can look back in the history books and see hundreds and hundreds of people gathered on all sides of this triangle at ceremonies honoring the 104th, but no more," said Willette. " So it is my job to bring it back."
The unit has a long military history and is special to Willette since he served in the 104th in Bosnia and lost a close friend who was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the 104th. The last active element of the regiment was deactivated in 2005.
"Their memory goes on for us indefinitely," said Willette.
Willette, Mayor Domenic Sarno, and Eric Segundo, Massachusetts State Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars placed a wreath at the monument to the 104th.
They later raised a flag from the World War I Centennial Commission.
Located where it is, Apremont Triangle has been overlooked amidst the numerous historic places, buildings, and landmarks of the Armory Quadrangle neighborhood. Charlie Knight, of the neighborhood civic association, said he hopes the public ceremony brings the memorial to the 104th its due.
" These people came from our town and have made such an important contribution," said Knight.
Just a few blocks from Apremont Triangle, the Springfield Armory National Park’s museum has opened special exhibits to commemorate the centennial of WWI.
Superintendent James Woolsey said there is a display of battlefield artifacts including weapons, uniforms, and a bullet-riddled helmet that all have been in storage for decades.
"This will be the publics chance to see things that have been hidden away for a long time," said Woolsey.
Another exhibit highlights the Springfield Armory’s role as the manufacturer of the rifles used by most of the U.S. soldiers in the war.
It is estimated that 6,500 Springfield residents fought in WWI.