The pain of John Ray’s brother’s death nearly half-a-century ago still haunts him.
“Even to this day, I still have dreams that he comes back to me,” said Ray speaking of his older brother, Walter “Donny” Ray, killed in action in Vietnam in November 1967.
Ray, along with Edward “Teddy” Lee – his teammate on Belmont High School’s 1964 state championship football team – and six other young men died fighting in Vietnam. They join the nearly 200 from Belmont, who died for their country in conflicts ranging from the Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Monday, a group of veterans and friends and relatives of Ray and Lee came before the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday, Aug. 18, to seek its support to raise nearly $350,000 to restore three monuments honoring those young residents who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country.
“This is about honoring our soldiers … and to find the capital to do this and really recognizing what the veterans have done for us,” said former selectman William Skelley, speaking for the newly-formed Belmont Veterans’ Memorial Project.
Kevin Ryan, a retired US Army brigadier general and currently a director at Harvard’s Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said the group’s mission is to repair two existing monuments – the World War I monument across from the MBTA commuter rail station abutting Common Street and the flag pole memorial for all veterans at Clay Pit Pond near Belmont High School – and creating a new site for the WWII dead.
While Belmont has done what he believes is an excellent job acknowledging veterans, over the years, the locations have fallen in disrepair, said Ryan. Vegetation has overgrown the Clay Pit Pond site, and the location is not tidy and the memorial is small and not well presented. The WWI memorial is threadbare under years of gray paint with the stone work in need of repair.
“What we want to do is refurbish some of the sites, spruce them up and add a couple of sites as memorial for veterans” including moving the memorials for World War II, Korea, Vietnam and subsequent conflict currently located in the main lobby of the Belmont Public Library, said Ryan.
“We want it out into the open so people can [see] them more readily,” said Ryan.
“I don’t know about you but the library was not a place I hung out all the time as a kid or as an adult,” said Ryan.
A portion of the $350,000 will be used to clean and repair the WWI monument revealing the pink granite and also for repairs. Additional funds will create a WWII memorial possibly in the front of the White Field House abutting Concord Avenue named for James Paul White, who died in the Battle of the Bugle.
The majority of the funds, approximately $240,000, will go into major improvements at the Clay Pit Memorial. It will include renovating the site and adding plaques from each conflict with the names of those who died mounted on boulders or low stone walls “blending with the current monument and the surrounding landscape,” Ryan said.
The group said it hoped to raise from veteran and donations such as $150 for brick paver, $20,000 for a memorial bench and $10,000 each from major donors.
At the suggestion of the Selectmen, the group will approach the town’s Community Preservation Committee in September on the possibility of qualifying for a grant from the town’s Community Preservation Act Fund. Grants from the fund – supplied by a surcharge of the real estate tax levy – and used for open space protection, historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreation.
After the Selectmen enthusiastically approved the project’s goals and efforts, both the veterans and family of those who will be recognized celebrated this initial victory.
Teddy Lee’s sister, Patty and Barbara, hugged many who came to support the new group’s efforts.
“It’s very touching,” said Patty.
“You can’t forget these young men, and it’s important to everyone to know what they did,” added Barbara.