Canton Citizen/ In Honor of Veterans Day
True Tales from Canton’s Past: Paying Tribute
By George T. Comeau
November 14th 2013
World War I monument restored
In his mind’s eye he is a small child standing on the sidewalk in 1939 as the Memorial Day parade passes by. Looking out over the crowd from a small boy’s height, he sees his neighbors, friends, and all the people that make up this small, tight-knit community. Anthony presses against the skirt of his mom and peers excitedly up Washington Street.
The main attraction can be heard closing in, the big bass drum thumping in Anthony’s chest. The Legion Band passes by, and as they do, the little boy looks on in awe — the music, the uniforms, and the reverent military cadence. Anthony was hooked at that very moment, and that vision still rings true almost 75 years later.
Fast forward to today. Anthony is now Tony, and everyone in Canton knows his smile and his passion for taking care of the soldiers of our wars. Tony Andreotti is as much Canton as any lifelong resident can be. Paying tribute to our soldiers is perhaps the highest and best honor we have in America. The tradition is sewn into the fabric of our nation and dates back to the American Revolution. Tony sees his role as the veterans agent to be the keeper of the flame and in passionate words describes his mission.
“The responsibility is mine,” says Tony. “I am a guardian to see that our memorials get turned over to the next generation.” He feels that war memorials need to be handed down across the generations, which assures that we never forget the sacrifices made for our great nation.
On Monday, the members of the Legion Band gathered at Veterans Memorial Park at the Canton Corner Cemetery to again pay tribute to the fallen men and woman of World War I. This was a scene reminiscent of the day the memorial was unveiled in 1926 — the scene made even more poignant by the fact that the veterans agent has just completed a restoration of the monument that had all but faded into history.
Growing up on Wall Street, Tony passed the large granite memorial on his way to St. John’s School every day of his school life. “Growing up as kids, we all played downtown, and this was a special place for us,” he said.
Referring to his childhood friends, Tony recalls the good times he had with Charlie Moore, Jimmy Doody, and the Ulianos. And when it came time to move on to high school, again Tony was in awe of the memorial placed just outside the Hemenway School. In short, it was an icon of his youth.
After graduating from Canton High School, Tony was drafted into the Army and served in Korea and Japan. Leaving the military at the rank of corporal, he returned home to his hometown and has led a prosperous life surrounded by children and the town he loves. Even today, the service continues, and the selfless work can literally be seen all over town.
As the veterans agent, it is Tony’s duty to provide assistance and referral services to vets and their families. Tony, however, takes his role many steps further and makes sure people never forget these men and women that he serves. The day before September 11, 2001, he began an ambitious project of marking the street signs where our fallen soldiers lived as a tribute to their memories. As a former selectman, Tony knows how the town works; when street signs come down, they are replaced and as such he created a successful and sustainable program of adding signs to honor the dead.
“The story is there,” he said. “For example, there is the name of the soldier, and a gold star signifying that they were killed in action. The name and rank and the ages are there.”
Tony wanted the age so you would not have to do the math. “These are young kids — 18, 19, 20 — never married,” he said. “I wanted that there to tell the story and make it hard not to put that sign back if it fell.” The signs went up, one each week for 47 weeks, covering the conflicts between World War I through Iraq. Each week on a Wednesday, people would gather as Tony presented the new sign. Accompanying each sign was a brief history written by town historian Ed Lynch and published in this paper.
The final phase of the sign project came when the 30 fallen heroes of the Civil War were honored. “I figured if there was one street that these boys walked upon in 1861, it was Washington Street,” said Tony. And in keeping with this connection, the signs from Cobb’s Corner to Route 138 are all placed for the fallen of the War of the Rebellion.
Soon after the sign project was complete, Tony observed each Memorial Day that the march to our war memorials was getting thinner and thinner. The monuments, spread across town, were unseen in everyday life. “What had happened was that the memorials had dissolved into their spaces and became invisible,” he said.
It was then that Tony moved our entire collection of memorials to one place, thus designing a fitting and proper setting. Veterans Memorial Park was created. By placing the monuments together, we have a gathering space to reflect upon the sacrifices made by Canton’s fallen war soldiers. At night a gentle glow illuminates the face of each monument, all planned under Tony’s watchful eye.
When the WWI monument was moved, it was in rough shape. It teetered on its base and the names had faded into the bronze plaque as time and nature took a toll. “It was my intent to have it refurbished,” explained Tony. It was only recently when he had a restoration company looking at another project did he decide to move the WWI project forward. Costing somewhere between $4,500 and $6,000, the work is paid for out of money from the Veterans’ Fund, a private account of donations made largely in memory of Canton’s veterans.
There are few companies in America with the pedigree of the Oliver Brothers in Beverly, Massachusetts. For over 160 years, this company has been restoring some of our nation’s most treasured works of art. James Oliver, the original founder of the firm, was trained and worked as an art restorer in Scotland. Some time before 1850 he arrived in New York to build a trade that would yield the preeminent art restoration company in the United States. Moving to Boston after the Civil War, this is the same firm that in 1906 restored Gilbert Stuart’s painting of General Washington that hangs in the Connecticut State Capitol. It is Oliver Brothers that just completed work on Canton’s monument to the Great War.
And yet the work is not done. For Tony there is another project on the horizon, that of restoring the Civil War soldier to his proper place outside of Memorial Hall. In the 1970s vandals repeatedly stole the bronze gun from his hands. The final insult came when late one evening hoodlums knocked the statue from its base and smashed the icon into several pieces. A restoration was undertaken, but the work unfortunately meant that the statue could not be placed outside again. Tony’s voice rises in anger: “You cannot let the folks that knocked him down have the day.” This is a project that will hopefully soon come to fruition. In the meantime, we wait.
As the last of the music plays out at the World War I monument this past Monday on Veterans Day, Tony smiles softly and knows that he is passing this memorial onto the next generation. The setting, the preservation, and the restoration allow him to give Canton the gift of memory and a fitting tribute.
Seeing the monument today, it gleams in the soft morning light that filters through the autumn trees. Each name is brought forth in glory and once again brilliantly casts the sacrifices made by these men and one woman. A war sonnet of 1914 is our perspective on this space: “He leaves a white unbroken glory, a gathered radiance, a width, a shining peace, under the night.” From a grateful town, thank you, Tony.