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Durham Veterans Commemorated At Fair

The service and sacrifice of hundreds of Durham vets remembered with impressive displays at the Durham Fair.

To Mabel Hamma and Emily Annino, Memorial Day and Veterans Day should not be the only two days of the year on which to remember the sacrifice and service of local veterans. As a result, the two Durham residents—with an assist from the veterans’ museum in Haddam—organized an impressive memorial display for this year’s Durham Fair. The memorial display was part of the multiple exhibits in the Discovery Tent.

A large honor roll listing the names of the veterans from Durham from both world wars was at the center of the memorial; in addition there were individual exhibits consisting of memorabilia, printed material and photos for the Civil War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War (see photos).

One impressive display highlighted the service of George Williams Roberts who came to Durham in 1924 and ran a poultry farm on Maiden Lane. Born in Boston in 1883, Roberts volunteered for the American Field Service (AFS) in 1916 at age 33. Roberts was one of over 800 Americans who served in the ambulance corps—a very dangerous job—to help France during World War I. Harvard Professor A. Pratt Andrews organized the AFS, a group that lost 115 during its existence. Among the volunteers were writers Dashiel Hammett, E.E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway—who was severely wounded. After the United States formally entered the war on April 6, 1917, the AFS eventually merged with the U.S. Army in August 1917. Many interesting photos taken by George Roberts during the Great War were on display. Sadly, George Roberts died in 1932 at age 49 in Durham from blood poisoning after cutting his finger on a knife.

Another interesting and impressive exhibit displayed the service of Seaman 1st Class Charles W. Knickerbocker. "Charlie" enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served in B Company of the 112th Construction Brigade—the "Seabees." A photographer, Knickerbocker made his own darkroom and created "Shovel Scoops," a cleverly entitled newsletter for his battalion. In December of 1944, Charlie’s unit shipped to Tinian where the Seabees constructed an airbase for B-29s to bomb mainland Japan. The most famous B-29 to takeoff from Tinian was the "Enola Gay," which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 5, 1945. Charlie’s unit later built a base hospital on Okinawa. Many of his interesting photos were on display (see photos).

Another interesting exhibit acknowledged the service of four Durham natives who left high school early to serve their country during World War II: Joe Romboli, Cleveland "Billy" Stannard, Pat Gervais, and Burt Parmelee. Since the four men never had a chance to finish high school, the town honored them in 2000 by conferring upon them honorary diplomas at the Coginchaug High School graduation ceremonies that year. Of the four, only Joe Ramboli of the 309th Field Artillery of the 78th Division is still alive.

The exhibit also included a tribute to the memory of the 9/11 victims. The center of that display was a well-rendered painting by Killingworth resident Carol Pleines of Father Mychal Judge, a fire department chaplain who was killed during the attack (see photos).

When General John A. Logan first established Memorial Day—then known as "Decoration Day"—in 1868, he wrote the following: "Let no neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic." Thanks to the efforts of Durham residents such as Mabel Hamma and Emily Annino, General Logan’s sentiments live on in their commemoration of the service and sacrifice of Durham’s residents during war—a nice addition to this year’s fair.

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