A veteran, enthusiastic students and old plaques on a Memorial Day

  • BELOW: Donaghey and Concord High principal Tom Sika talk at the assembly.

  • Seniors acknowledge their school mates at the “End of Year Assembly’ at Concord High School on Friday, May 26, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • World War II veteran Manson Donaghey of Pembroke acknowledges the assembly at Concord High School on Friday, May 26, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ABOVE: Concord High seniors Trevor Bickford (right) and Austin Lewis along with Jake Phillips help principal Tom Sika with the refurbished plaque honoring the 14 former Concord High students who died in World War II. Bickford, Lewis and Phillips are joining the military after graduation. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • LEFT: Concord High English teacher Denise Fournier and World War II veteran Mason Donaghey of Pembroke look over an artifact from the war before Friday’s assembly at the school.

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/27/2017 10:11:33 PM

There were old plaques honoring our war dead, found recently in dusty areas of Concord High School.

There was student spirit in the school’s gym, loud, passionate and genuine.

And, in that same gym, there was a veteran named Manson Donaghey of Pembroke, who fought the Nazis during World War II.

Each was part of a tribute honoring seniors and veterans as we move into the long Memorial Day Weekend. A long weekend that means more than barbecues and time off.

“This was a thrill,” Donaghey, who’s 91, told me after the event last week. “It was like a reincarnation. I don’t get that very often.”

Donaghey owns a Christmas tree farm in Pembroke. He no longer plants trees there, but he’s still part of the operation, his daughter, Kathy Cruson, said.

That’s no surprise. He’s sharp and funny, asking Concord High English teacher Denise Fournier, a family friend, “Do you need a note?” when she excused herself to head back to class.

He’s also full of stories and memories, each rich with details. He served in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, near the German border. He was armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle as part of the 100th Infantry Division. He and his men fought for a small hill, then got pushed back by the Germans, then pushed back themselves to retake the hill.

Donaghey recalled Operation North Wind, the final German offensive on the Western Front, launched in freezing conditions on New Year’s Eve, 1944. Donaghey slept in snow and shattered his kneecap slipping down a steep hill.

“I was fortunate,” he told me.

Now, more than 70 years later, he was the star, after the Concord High administration had invited him to a varsity baseball game a week ago. “His personality lights up the whole place,” Concord High Athletic Director Steve Mello said, shortly before the assembly began.

Mello led a slow-yet-steady Donaghey past an endless line of students waiting for entry into the gym. His entourage included Cruson and Fournier, whose parents were close friends with Donaghey and his late wife, Fay, back in the 1940s.

It took no time to find youthful appreciation for what Donaghey and others like him had sacrificed because of war, a dark institution that, ironically, displays the best humans have to offer.

Senior Brett Spaulding enlisted in the Air Force a year ago. He wants to be an aircraft mechanic. He’s played the bagpipes in Memorial Day parades. Both his parents served in the Army. I asked Spaulding what Memorial Day meant to him.

“I get it, it’s a day off,” Spaulding told me. “But you can take a little time to go to a veterans cemetery, or go to a parade, pay your respects. These guys put a lot on the line so we can do what we do today.”

The gym filled quickly, every spot in the bleachers taken by underclassmen, every folding chair on the basketball court occupied by seniors. The band played, featuring trumpets and trombones and tubas and clarinets and drums.

Donaghey sat near the front. He had white hair and glasses, wore khaki pants and a plaid shirt, with his keys hooked to his belt and clearly visible, stuffed into his front right pocket.

He stood and turned toward the bleachers, toward the musicians, rhythmically clapping to the beat, smiling, appreciating all those who were appreciating him.

Asked about his energy level, Cruson told me, “He’s like that all day, every day.”

The student-generated electricity no doubt fueled Donaghey. In short, the place was rocking.

Seniors Austin Lewis, Trevor Bickford and Jake Phillips, who will serve after graduating, were included in the tribute.

Three other seniors – Kurtis Stadnicki, Kat Jepson and Spencer Burgess – emceed the event, firing up the crowd, announcing speakers, welcoming the guest of honor.

Jepson told me later, “Every year we have this assembly, and I’m always impressed with how welcoming everyone is. Everyone appreciates the students going in (to the armed services), and the dedication of the plaque adds a whole new level to it.”

Oh, yes. Those plaques.

They were on the wall near the old administrative offices, then moved to storage during renovations 20 years ago.

Last year, night-shift custodian Wayne Roark found the three pieces of history. The oldest, from 1919, commemorates Concord High graduates who died in World War I. Another lists the 14 men who died in that war, and another displays the 48 graduates killed during the Second World War.

Only the World War I plaque, the one with no names, could be restored in time for last week’s tribute. Lewis, Bickford and Phillips held it up for everyone to see.

Earlier, Donaghey had seen the 48 names on the yet-to-be-refurbished World War II plaque.

He noticed two names in particular: Leonard Peirce and Alvin Boggis. They were his classmates. Peirce was killed in action; Boggis, whom Donaghey called the class clown, died from an illness while in boot camp.

Donaghey mentioned his two friends during a short speech. Later, near the end of the ceremony, as “Taps” played, Donaghey, the soldier who broke his kneecap and fired a machine gun and once slept in the snow, bowed his head and, it appeared, cried.

“I might have,” the soldier admitted. “That plaque had two of my friends’ names on it. Two of my friends who died.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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