The State Veterans Cemetery brought two men together, pooling their pride

  • Richard Marsh stands at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery. Courtesy

  • A poster illustrates Richard Marsh's walk to raise money to support New Hampshire veterans. RICHARD MARSH—Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/1/2021 4:03:02 PM

Richard Marsh lives south of the border, down in Oxford, Mass.

His heart, however, beats across the Granite State, strongest at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen. He’s got an ally living at the State Veterans Home in Tilton in 93-year-old Norm Sanborn, formerly of Rochester. Now that their paths have crossed, Sanborn is helping Marsh tell the history of the Veterans Cemetery, contributing stories and photos to his book project.

“It’s more than halfway done,” said Marsh, 58. “We’re going to release it as part of the celebration for the 25th anniversary of the cemetery. We haven’t nailed down the date yet.”

Marsh lived in New Hampshire, in Milton Falls, for 10 years, hiking and fishing with his son and two daughters. He loved the landscape and history of New Hampshire, the pace, the peace. And he loved the Veterans Cemetery, its hallowed grounds and perfect upkeep.

Last year, the Massachusetts resident walked 11 miles, from the Veterans Cemetery to the Veterans Home in Tilton, and last week he walked 19 miles, from the State House to the Veterans Home. Both times Marsh raised money to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder, volunteering through a Red Sox-sponsored charity called Home Base. Help for those suffering from invisible wounds is the mission.

He sought out Sanborn this last time, told that the former Merchant Marine loved history and had stories and documents and photos covering the birth and life of the Veterans Cemetery. That’s because Sanborn, in a wonderful coincidence, had always admired the cemetery and what it represented, since its opening in 1997.

Sanborn volunteered in his hometown, driving veterans to the Cemetery for a meal and a tour, serving as president of the Rochester Historical Society, and receiving accolades from the New Hampshire State Commission on Aging.

In other words, he was the perfect resource to help Marsh. And he’s ready to go, waiting for his new friend’s return to Tilton.

“I’m getting together what I have, information on the cemetery,” Sanborn said. “There are stories I have that he did not know about.”

He saw changes in management at the cemetery and its expansion, and he felt its bittersweet soul of pride mixed with sadness, each time a veteran’s story was recounted during a funeral.

He knew something about the horrors of war. He served in the Merchant Marines the year World War II ended, 1945. He was on a ship, a giant troop carrier, that docked in France and “brought the boys home,” Sanborn said.

He was 16 years old. He cooked for 66 crew members. He remembers the battle-weary soldiers who boarded, the blank expressions of hardened men from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Infantry, men who had faced the Germans in the Battle of Bulge, which featured a lot of snow and a lot of blood. He remembered the poker games.

“It was quite an experience, coming from a farm in Rochester,” Sanborn said. “They’d have big games and we made them sandwiches and they would give us a dollar or two.”

He came home to Rochester and got married. His wife died three years ago. He moved into the Veterans Home last year.

Meanwhile, Marsh, 58, never served in the military, and he admits he feels guilty that others sacrificed so much, while the luck of the draw – the year he was born – saved him from the battlefield.

“I’m very patriotic, so I guess there’s some guilt,” Marsh said. “I want to give back to those who served.”

His father served in the Coast Guard. That’s one of the reasons Marsh loves the Veterans Cemetery: its tribute to the Guard.

“It felt like that in some way, I was visiting him,” said Marsh, whose father died last year at the age of 89. “The first time I was there, you see all the flags and the Memorial Walkway. I was in awe. Such a beautiful, peaceful place. I spent all day shooting memorials.”

He’s been scanning his own photos and documents for his book. Sanborn will offer what he has, his photos and facts about the cemetery.

Their partnership is new, rising from the passion both men have for the Veterans Cemetery. In fact, Marsh had a choice last Saturday: raise money for PTS in Boston, the walk starting in the Fenway Park bleachers and ending at home plate.

Or, he could honor a commitment he had made to appear at the Veterans Home following his 19-mile walk.

He chose the latter. Dave Collins, representing Concord American Legion Post 21, was at the State House to wish Marsh well. Marsh’s daughter, Laura, walked with him.

The Veterans Home's residents had been told that someone was walking a long way to help fight post-traumatic stress, so residents were on the second-floor balcony and front lawn, waiting for the father and his daughter.

Tilton School students had made posters, welcoming Marsh. Someone baked a cake.

“I was touched,” Marsh said.

He was introduced to Sanborn. Their common connection to history and the Veterans Cemetery were too powerful not to bring them together.

They spoke for a half-hour about the cemetery and how best to present a book that will combine historical background with scanned documents and photos.

“I’m getting information for cemeteries, stories and pictures,” Sanborn said. “He’s coming back. I don’t know when.”

It’s a work in progress. Marsh lives 100 miles from Concord. That’s where his family is, his children and grandchildren. That’s the only reason he’s not living in the Granite State.

He would if he could. And he’ll be back.

“The Granite State is fantastic,” Marsh said. “I’ve always wanted to write a book about Ne w Hampshire. It’s the only place that felt like home to me.”

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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