West Tisbury veterans’ memorial rededicated

The memorial and three veterans: John Mayhew, Nelson Bryant, Clifford Athearn, at Friday's ceremony. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

West Tisbury has found a better spot for its memorial to veterans of World War I and World War II. Until recently, largely unseen behind juniper bushes, it was the sole occupant of a tiny park on a triangle of land at the intersection of State Road and the start of the Edgartown Road, across the street from Parsonage Pond in West Tisbury.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Shirley Mayhew, wife of WWII veteran John Mayhew, the granite boulder has been moved to the town hall grounds, on a landscaped border between the town hall parking lot and the Grange Hall fence. Six of the name plates had been lost and have been replaced. There is room there for monuments to veterans of other wars, if the town chooses to expand its remembrance.

On a bright and cool Veterans’ Day, town officials, fire and police personnel, Island veterans from other towns, and about 30 proud citizens holding miniature American flags turned out to rededicate the monument and to thank the guests of honor in attendance—the three surviving veterans whose names are on the stone: Clifton Athearn, Army; Nelson Bryant, Army; and Mr. Mayhew, Navy Air Force. The town flag snapped sharply in a brisk wind as Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, chairman of the West Tisbury selectmen, extended the remembrance to all who have served and continue to serve in the military forces of the United States.

Before it was moved, the monument was practically invisible. In 1949, West Tisbury was a much sleepier town than it is now, and the monument was not placed to catch the eye of automobile traffic. The brass plaques attached to the boulder faced into none of the three roadways that approached it, and to many visitors the stone would have appeared a random boulder, like many “erratics” common up-Island. The weathered metal inscriptions, if they were noticed at all in the shrubbery, were too small to read from the road, and there was no convenient place to park. When the monument was new, many of those named were still alive, and they and their families and friends would have been proud to go and look at it. But in the 21st century, many people, even people who live in town, did not know it was there. Town Administrator Jennifer Rand told The Times that she didn’t know it was there until there was a fuss about putting event signs at the triangle, a memorial park.

In an interview for Veterans’ Day 2007, Mr. Athearn told The Times that he wished the veterans’ memorial could be moved and suggested that when the town hall was refurbished, the boulder might be moved up there “where somebody might see it.”

Ms. Mayhew recently ran across The Times story in her files and was prompted to take Mr. Athearn’s idea to the selectmen. Mr. Manter commented, “We all wondered why nobody had thought of it earlier.”

The history of the monument

On Friday, November 11, John Alley, former selectman and town historian, gave those assembled the history of the monument. It was a project of the West Tisbury Grange, first voted in July of 1949, when it was designated the Grange project of that year, to erect a monument to the men and women from town who served in the armed forces (including the Merchant Marine) in the World Wars. The money was raised from private donations and from “penny sales,” a social fund-raising event common in the day. The brass plaques were made by Manuel Santos of Edgartown: the names of 40 men and one woman (Louise Merry, Army National Guard). The memorial was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1949 — now called Veterans’ Day.

Mr. Alley commented that it is appropriate that the monument now sits in the yard of what was for many years the West Tisbury schoolhouse. On December 8, 1941, students from the school trooped across to the Grange to listen to President Roosevelt address the nation on the radio about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a week, a room in the school was dedicated to homeland defense.

On Veterans’ Day 2011, a veterans honor guard and town police officers and firefighters were in full dress uniforms. Three West Tisbury police presented the colors. To the recorded Star Spangled Banner, Jesse Oliver of the fire department raised the flag on the pole next to the monument, where it will now fly proudly over the memorial to those who fought for it.

Mr. Manter told the crowd that while the selectmen quickly agreed with Mr. Athearn’s idea, they wrangled some over where on the town hall lot it should be. Mr. Manter thanked Bob Schwartz for sketches of the present location. He also thanked the Grange for the monument and Mr. Alley, the last master of the now-disbanded Grange, for giving permission to move it. Vineyard Gardens provided landscaping for the new memorial, and Richard Olsen and his crew did the heavy lifting.

Lastly, Mr. Manter thanked Ms. Mayhew for championing the idea.

Before the crowd adjourned to the town hall for a reception, Mr. Manter ended the ceremony by asking for a moment of quiet thought to honor all veterans and all those who now serve. While the crowd stood silent, C&W star Lee Greenwood was played, singing “God Bless the USA,” which contains the lines: “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,/and I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.”

The West Tisbury selectmen have begun preliminary discussions about erecting monuments to town servicemen and servicewomen who have served in other conflicts, from Korea through Afghanistan. There is room near the flag pole for other monuments, but plans are in very early stages. Michael Colaneri has agreed to collect names, which he is finding a difficult task. The rules are that one’s official town for such memorials is the town that appears on one’s enlistment papers. Anyone with information about West Tisbury military personnel who have served since 1950 should contact Mr. Colaneri.