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Honor and Remember: Memorial Day 2024 Ceremony and Ghost Walk

On Memorial Day morning, May 27, Waterbury Historical Society partnered with American Legion Post 59 for the 18th year to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of the United States Armed Forces. This year, the event was held at Maple Street Cemetery in Waterbury Center.

Post Commander Wayne Goulet led the ceremony, which included a recitation of "In Flanders Fields," a gun salute, and "Taps" on bugle. "America the Beautiful" was sung a cappella by Rebecca Ellis, Duncan McDougall, Betsy Ainsworth, and John Buck.

Memorial Day 2024 America the Beautiful
(L-R) Duncan McDougall, Rebecca Ellis, Betsy Ainsworth, and John Buck sing "America the Beautiful" a capella. American Legion Post 59 commander Wayne Goulet stands in the background. Photo by Joe Camaratta for WHS.

Following the ceremony, more than 60 attendees broke into four groups to walk the circuit of four stations, each focusing on a person or persons who lived and worked in Waterbury but aren’t buried within town limits. 

Missing in service

Members of the historical society served as group guides and presenters. At one station, Brian Lindner, who also served as event emcee, spoke about the 5 Waterbury men classified as “Missing in Action” (MIA) during combat. Four of these men—Leon Collins, Thomas Flannery, Earl Sevene, and James Stewart—were lost during World War II. 

The fifth, Captain John Lafayette, went missing when, during a clandestine mission over Laos, the two planes that he and three other airmen were flying in went down. Lindner, who has been doggedly researching Capt. Lafayette’s story for some time, said he was able to access military records from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office and learned an interesting twist to the airman’s story. 

According to the records, the four airmen were captured on the ground by a group of North Vietnamese soldiers, who intended to take them as prisoners of war because they were all American officers. However, a North Vietnamese colonel later attested to shooting Capt. Lafayette as he tried to run up the other side of the gully in which the officers were trapped. The colonel’s statement confirmed that the airman was given a proper burial on site; not long after, the entire area was destroyed by a flood, carrying away Lafayette’s remains. Lindner surprised the group by revealing that the search for Capt. Lafayette has been reopened and “people are on the ground right now, looking for John’s remains.” 

Memorial Day remembering MIA service members
Brian Lindner presents about Waterbury's MIA service members. Photo by Joe Camaratta for WHS.

All five of the men are listed on the monuments in Rusty Parker Memorial Park.

Celebrating firsts

Skip Flanders presents about first woman Village Trustee Orrilla "Ollie" O'Clair. Photo by Joe Camaratta for WHS.

At a second station, P. Howard “Skip” Flanders presented the story of Orrilla “Ollie” (Somerville) O’Clair (1886-1957), who was known for many significant contributions to Waterbury. According to Flanders, Ollie was a published poet and wrote the class poem for her graduating class of 1912 at Waterbury High School—the largest graduating class at the time. 

After graduating from Albany Business College, Ollie returned to Waterbury to work at O’Clair Granite Works as a stenographer. Flanders said that Ollie “married the boss,” Clifton O’Clair, in 1918. When Clifton died just three years later, Ollie became “the only woman owning and working in the granite industry in the country” at the time, said Flanders. Ollie also went on to be the first woman elected as a Village Trustee, a post she held from 1924-1928. She is buried in Stowe, VT.

A power couple

Rosina Wallace told the story of her parents, Keith and Gladys (Pike) Wallace, whose dairy farm on Blush Hill was only one of the many, many projects and commitments occupying their time. Keith (1908-1995) was a fixture in town and state politics, the Farm Bureau, church, and the Grange. 

Rosina Wallace tells the story of her parents, dairy farmers Keith and Gladys Wallace. Photo by Joe Camaratta for WHS.

Gladys (1917-1986) defied her Waterbury High School class of 1936 prediction that she would be “the proprietress of Pike’s Beauty Parlor, specializing in bob cuts,” according to daughter Rosina, to specialize instead in playing piano and organ for churches and the Grange, farming, needlework, and playing bridge. Rosina added that her mother “could pull off big family gatherings without a hitch.” In 1982, the Vermont Farm Bureau honored Gladys as “Farm Wife of the Year.” 

Keith and Gladys had their ashes placed on the family farm. “For Mom and Dad, that ‘special place’ was the farm,” said Rosina. “They made it special and shared it with friends and family.”

Educator, coach, and mentor

The final stop in the circuit was Charlie Grenier’s presentation about Dascomb “Dac” Rowe (1897-1995), the beloved principal, teacher, and coach at Waterbury High School. Grenier joked about Rowe’s time at UVM, where he enrolled after serving in World War I, saying, “He [Rowe] slept through a lot of his classes.” He added fondly, “I suspect he slept through them because he was bored, as he was so bright.”

Rowe stepped into the principal role at Waterbury High School in 1926, occupying the position for 33 years, until 1959. He was the primary driver behind the building of the school gym in 1937. “He encouraged physical fitness,” said Grenier. Rowe also “coached baseball, basketball, and cross country at one point or another,” Grenier added. 

Charlie Grenier presents about beloved high school principal Dascomb "Dac" Rowe. Photo by Joe Camaratta for WHS.

When Rowe retired from teaching mathematics at Harwood Union High School in 1967, the community rallied to gift him a new Chevrolet. “He ran it until it was a bucket of bolts,” laughed Grenier. Rowe is buried in Peacham, VT.

The Memorial Day Ceremony and Ghost Walk is organized each year by historical society board member Jan Gendreau, who also led a group of attendees around the circuit of presentations. Jane and Paul Willard and society vice-president Jill Chase led the other three groups. 


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