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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lots of pride from veterans, attendees at Nashua’s Memorial Day parade

NASHUA – At age 94, World War II veteran Louis Prince has been a staple of Nashua’s Memorial Day parade for decades.

And when the last Monday of May rolled around this week, Prince was there to salute the crowds along Main Street. ...

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NASHUA – At age 94, World War II veteran Louis Prince has been a staple of Nashua’s Memorial Day parade for decades.

And when the last Monday of May rolled around this week, Prince was there to salute the crowds along Main Street.

Sitting in the back of a Mercury Grand Marquis driven by Navy Veteran Robert Madigan, Prince took part in his 70th Memorial Day Parade on Monday, joined by fellow members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 483.

For Prince, the medals hanging from his neck were a testament to his service. The Army veteran participated in a nine-country tour across Northern Africa and Europe, taking part in the Invasion of France and the Battle of the Bulge.

For the generations who grew up in the shadow of those conflicts, it was an experience that most could only imagine. But for Prince, the wartime experience didn’t end when he was discharged in 1945. The obligation that remains, he said, is to pay tribute each year to those who didn’t return home.

“We had to do it. We had to do this,” he said.

Fellow World War II Veteran Richard Mohrmann was seated beside Prince in the back of the Mercury as it rolled through downtown Nashua. Mohrmann, who served in the Pacific with the 33rd Infantry Division, said he feels the same obligation.

“It’s important to remember all those that didn’t make it,” the 88-year-old said. “We’re here to remember them and to celebrate for them.”

Well-wishers dotted the city’s sidewalks Monday for Nashua’s annual Memorial Day parade, watching as veterans, city officials and civic groups paid tribute to the men and women who died during military service.

Nashua’s commemoration began at 7 a.m. with services at local cemeteries conducted by members of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 7 and the James E. Coffey American Legion Post 3.

The parade then stepped off from Holman Stadium at 10:30 a.m., heading east on Amherst Street to Main Street, then down Lake Street to Elm Street Middle School.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and city officials traveled near the head of the parade formation. Ron Poirier, chaplain of the local American Legion Post, was selected as the grand marshal. Priscille Barbera was honored as President of the Day.

Bands from American Legion Post and from Bishop Guertin High School, Nashua High School North and South and the Elm Street, Pennichuck and Fairgrounds middle schools performed for onlookers.

Motorcycle riders and color guards from the Nashua Police Department and Nashua Fire Rescue accompanied the marchers.

Others taking part in the parade included members of VFW Post 483; 4th Division Marine Corps League Detachment 823; Elks Lodge 720; Nashua Emblem Club 170; Knights of Columbus Assembly 1506; Rising Sun Lodge 39 of the Masons; and the local Odd Fellows Hall.

For Vietnam War veteran Kevin McKeating, the enthusiasm surrounding Memorial Day over the last several years has been a welcome sight. Between 1965 and 1970, McKeating served with the Air Force in the Philippines and in Vietnam.

McKeating said he put away his uniform when he returned home, waiting 20 years before he joined the VFW and started participating in annual commemorations of servicemen and women.

“Before the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, people wouldn’t even remember veterans,” he said. “That brought back a little patriotism, those two conflicts.”

McKeating said he’s heartened that more people seem to be turning out for Nashua’s annual Memorial Day parade these days than in the past. And while he believes appreciation for military service has increased, McKeating said the challenge that lies ahead for veterans is improving the health care system run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

McKeating said he’s never had trouble getting an appointment and service in the hospital in New Hampshire, but he’s troubled by the stories emerging elsewhere in the country.

“What’s going on in the other hospitals is a disgrace,” he said.

In many ways, Prince and other members of the Greatest Generation faced a different reality when they were discharged from military service than Vietnam-era veterans such as McKeating, or the men and women returning from wars in the Middle East today.

Nevertheless, Prince said he sees a common thread running through the thousands of military men and women who have served since he left the battlefield: a willingness to stand up and fight when necessary.

A Nashua native, Prince first entered the service at age 20, serving a year with the Nashua-based 197th New Hampshire National Guard. He later became part of the 443rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, and commanded a halftrack during fierce clashes in Europe under the direction of General George S. Patton.

“I never, never thought I could do such a thing,” he said. “It had to be done, and I did it, and I didn’t break down. Don’t ask me how.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).