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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mystery Nashua airman seeks return home

Dean Shalhoup

He lived in Nashua, or very close by, for at least a little while.

Later, he found his way to Amherst, then to Marlborough, Mass., and finally, about three years ago, he landed in Ocala, Fla. ...

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He lived in Nashua, or very close by, for at least a little while.

Later, he found his way to Amherst, then to Marlborough, Mass., and finally, about three years ago, he landed in Ocala, Fla.

Now, after all this time, his warm, grandmotherly caretaker, Peg Corkum, has decided it’s time for him to go home.

The next step is a little tricky: Corkum has no idea who he is.

“He” is a professionally done portrait, likely a photograph colored by an artist’s hand, of a uniformed U.S. airman smiling brightly through a handsome, oval-shape frame topped with the figure of an eagle whose wings are spread above a patriotic shield.

Contemplating what to do next – there’s no missing portraits bureau, after all – Corkum peeled away the backing until she found the stamp “Loring Studios, Nashua, NH.”

Loring, best known for its school yearbook photography, apparently had a studio in Nashua when Corkum’s airman was photographed. Today, the closest Loring studio to Nashua is in Lowell, Mass., which is one of Loring’s more than two dozen studios along the East Coast.

The letter crossed my cluttered desk the other day. Miraculously, it resisted burial by stacks of notes and piles of faxed police logs awaiting my attention.

“I am sending you a picture of this handsome airman … thinking that perhaps if printed … that someone might recognize him,” I read.

I studied the enclosed copy of the photo, figuring I’ve seen so many photos of local soldiers over the years that I just might recognize him.

There’s a peculiar familiarity about him, but it ended there. So, dear readers, take a good look –
go online and enlarge it if you want – and see if you can identify Corkum’s “adopted” soldier.

Peg and Spencer Corkum rescued the captivating portrait at least a decade ago after spotting it in the corner of an Amherst antiques shop whose name escapes them.

“We were browsing around. It was kind of an old place, one of those they call a ‘digger’s delight,’ ” Peg Corkum said, recalling the couple’s leisurely drive over back roads from Marlborough, up through Pepperell, Mass., and into New Hampshire.

“In a dimly lit, dusty corner was that portrait. He was so gorgeous,” she said with a laugh.

The two finished browsing and headed for home, but Corkum’s thoughts stayed in Amherst.

“I couldn’t get that picture out of my head,” she wrote in the letter. She remembered “feeling strongly that this didn’t belong in … a long forgotten, dusty old corner.”

She appealed to her husband; the couple were soon on the way back to Amherst.

The Corkums are a charming story.

Acquainted since grade school in their native Waltham, Mass., they crossed paths often before going their separate ways in adulthood.

Neither married, each taking care of their aging parents. Come the late 1990s, Spencer Corkum sent his old friend a note about their childhood church.

“I responded, and we reconnected,” Peg Corkum said. “He’d been in the Air Force, traveled around a lot.”

Their long, circuitous route to the altar was nearing its destination.

“After all those years, we got married in 2000, to celebrate the millennium,” she said.

The newlyweds sold their Waltham homes and moved to Marlborough, combining households and blending 65 years’ worth of memories. A few years later, they became snowbirds, buying a condo in an Ocala condo community called On Top of the World.

The neighborhood that touts itself “Ocala’s premier 55-plus active adult retirement community” may sound cliche, but to the Corkums, who moved there full time in 2010, it’s reality.

“I never thought I’d live in Florida,” Corkum said. “But we love it here. It’s a beautiful area, farms and horse ranches all around.”

With no children, the Corkums have only a few family members to pass things on to as they continue downsizing to give themselves some room in their new condo.

And she’d love nothing more than to be able to reunite the likeness of the smiling, handsome airman with those close to him.

“I really hope someone takes a look and says, ‘Hey! That’s my grandfather,’ or uncle or in-law,” she said.

So if you recognize him, please email me at the address below; I’ll pass the good news on to Corkum and put her in touch with you.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).