A Veteran's Day Journey

Over the years, I’ve noticed a number of monuments and plaques honoring those who served in our armed forces scattered throughout my hometown of Portsmouth, NH, but I had no idea just how many had been erected in my city of barely 21,000 until I embarked upon a Veteran’s Day discovery mission.

I visited statues, granite markers, bronze plaques and even a fountain honoring service ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War and not just by Portsmouth residents, but also New Hampshire citizens and the 3,500 Americans aboard 52 submarines lost during World War II.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit one of the more impressive monuments, the World War II Memorial Bridge linking New Hampshire with Maine, because it’s in the process of being replaced after it was closed due to safety concerns.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, erected in 1888, includes a relief of the USS Kearsarge that was built at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and defeated the Confederate ship Alabama. According to local historians, half of Portsmouth’s draft-eligible men served in the Civil War and one-tenth were killed at a time when the city’s population was just 10,000.

Prescott Park along the Piscataqua River separating Portsmouth from Kittery, Maine, is home to this fountain honoring Charles Emerson Hovey, who was killed in 1911 in the Philippine-American War. In the background, you can see part of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which is said to be one of the nation’s oldest continually operating shipyards. It services nuclear submarines today.

 

Located in the same park is this anchor near where the veterans gather each Memorial Day for their “Burial at Sea” ceremony.

 

Our World War I monument honors the 26 Portsmouth residents killed between 1917-1919.  It was moved from its original location in 2009 because of a road widening project but veterans didn’t like the new spot so it was moved again to its current placement two years ago.

 

Portsmouth is home to a number of World War II monuments besides the Memorial Bridge. This one was moved in front of our new Library when an old armory building was demolished to make way for it.  The plaque lists the members of the Portsmouth High School Class of 1940 who served, as well as classmates who were killed.

Another park is home to a memorial honoring all who served, as well as all the prisoners of wars and those still missing in action, while specifically naming the NH POWs/MIAs from the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Portsmouth also is home to the USS Albacore museum commemorating “the first Navy-designed vessel with a true underwater hull of cylindrical shape that has become the standard for today's submarines worldwide.” The Auxiliary General Submarine (AGSS) Albacore was designed and built at the Shipyard and served as a sea-going test platform from 1953 to 1972.

Located nearby is a Memorial Garden commemorating submarines lost during World War II and the Cold War, including this one memorialzing the 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted men “still on patrol” after their subs were sunk during WWII.

They included the first USS Albacore lost in November 1944 when she apparently struck a mine following missions in which she sunk eight Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier.

 

The USS Capelin, built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, disappeared in the Celebes Sea during her second patrol of World War II.

The USS Squalus sank during new construction sea trials off the New Hampshire coast in 1939. Twenty-two sailors and two civilians died, but 33 men were rescued using the McCann Rescue Chamber, marking the first time submariners were saved from a sunken sub.

In 1941, the World War I submarine 0-9 (SS-70) was being used for crew training before the start of World War II when it went down off the New Hampshire coast with no survivors.

 

The final memorial in the garden honors the Cold War loss of the USS Thresher, which sank with 129 military and civilian personnel during sea trials during a deep dive off the New England continental shelf in 1963.  I well remember the devastating impact on the local community from what is still considered the worst submarine disaster in U.S. history.  Ocean explorer Robert Ballard has revealed that when he discovered the remains of the Titanic in 1985, that search actually was a cover for a secret mission to find the Thresher and another sunken sub.

By the time I reached the conclusion of my sobering Veterans Day journey, I was astonished and very proud of the number of monuments in our small city to those who have defended our nation in peacetime and in war.

Editor’s Note:  This Veteran’s Day, why don’t you take a walk around your town and keep an eye out for Veterans’ Memorials?  You might be surprised at what you find, and what it makes you feel.  It makes me proud, and makes me smile, to remember these brave men and women who served our country, and were always ready to fight for freedom, yours and mine.

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