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Lowell Politics Newsletter: May 26, 2024

It’s budget time for the city of Lowell. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Tom Golden presented his proposed FY2025 budget to Councilors. Other than a brief statement by Golden, there was no discussion on the budget. That will occur on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at 6 pm at a special meeting exclusively on the budget. But the proposed budget and supporting documents were included in the Council packet so that will be the primary topic for today’s newsletter. Rather than try to cover anything, I’ll focus on a few items that caught my attention. (For those interested, the full budget is also available online.)

One clear message, explicit in Golden’s remarks and implied in the content of the budget, is that the cost of everything keeps going up. As has been the case for many years, there are three big drivers of annual cost increases: (1) pension assessment; (2) health insurance premiums; and (3) Charter School assessment. Those are mostly out of the hands of city decision-makers so there is little that can be done locally to control or cut those costs. They must be absorbed which puts more pressure on the rest of the budget.

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The city does have more control over two other areas of significant increase in this year’s budget: waste disposal and employee salaries.

More than a decade ago the city separated certain services from the city budget and created stand alone “enterprise funds” for sewer, water, and parking. Each of these is supposed to be self-supporting with user fees covering the cost of the service. One of the attractions of these funds is that the fees can be imposed on some entities that don’t pay property taxes.

Trash disposal is not an enterprise fund but it is treated like one with a fee charged and city budget writers striving to ensure that the fees collected cover the cost of the service. They do not. In fact, the cost of the service exceeds the fee revenue by $4 million which means the rest of the city budget is subsidizing the cost of trash disposal by that amount.

Manager Golden wants to tackle that deficit by increasing the trash collection fee which has not risen for quite some time. Currently, the fee is $125 for a household and $32 for elderly residents. The proposed increase would make the fee $325 for a household, $50 for an elderly family, and $425 for a non-owner-occupied residence.

As a percentage increase, the new fee is a big jump, but that’s only because the city has failed to keep the fee in synch with the cost of the service. Consequently, the increase seems warranted and reasonable. Still, there are already signs of pushback by city councilors on this fee increase. Although slight compared to the amount everyone’s property tax bill will go up, the simplicity of the jump from $125 to $325 carries the kind of symbolic weight that often prompts a reactionary response from councilors.

Perhaps a better response is to raise the fee so the service is self-sustaining, but then put more effort into reducing the volume of waste that must be collected. The reflexive reaction to this quandary is “more recycling” but recycling is not the solution it was once thought to be. That’s partly because the market for recycled materials is much diminished which makes recycling less attractive and more costly.

Another factor is “contamination” of the recycling stream. Every time a resident places a plastic bag of trash in the green recycling container, the city pays a penalty to the vendor. There’s been much talk on the council about how to increase compliance with the recycling rules. Better education and stricter enforcement are both desirable but non-compliance will always be a challenge in Lowell.

What else can the city do? Giving more attention to reducing the amount of waste in the first place should be one approach. The city has already done some things, most notably, banning the use of plastic bags in some retail settings, and installing more water bottle filling stations in some schools. Regarding water bottles, persuading residents that Lowell tap water is clean and safe to drink and urging its consumption might reduce the number of single use water bottles going into the waste stream. (And yes, I drink Lowell tap water all the time and think it tastes great.)

A topic that might benefit from more attention is food waste disposal. MassDEP estimates that food waste accounts for more than 25 percent of the waste stream in Massachusetts after recycling. I believe the answer is composting, but I rarely hear that mentioned. I’ve tried composting in the past with mixed results. In theory it’s simple but the execution can get complicated (and messy). Getting more residents to compost organic waste might also reduce the volume of yard waste the city must also pay to collect.

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Employee salaries are also responsible for a significant amount of the budget increase. Driving this is higher salaries and rising benefit costs for existing employees, but also a substantial number of new positions that are being created.

In the past decade, Lowell has lost a significant number of valuable employees to other communities because those other communities offer higher wages and better working conditions. It does make sense, and seems a necessity, to bring compensation levels in Lowell up to and even higher than those for comparable positions in other communities.

Regarding new positions, City Manager Golden contends that to deliver the quality of life “that the residents of Lowell deserve” the city must spend more on employees and equipment. I agree with that but with the caveat that the increased expenditure must be sustainable. If the city retains all its existing employees and increases their salaries, then adds a considerable number of new employees, many of them at management level earning commensurate salaries, the resulting employment costs risk being unsustainable over the long term.

The approach that is needed is to increase the efficiency of the workforce while reducing its size over time. That requires very nimble management, but it also requires coherent guidance from the city council. We’ll see how much of that is forthcoming on June 4.

President Joe Biden is fond of saying, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” That’s certainly true, but there’s an important corollary that goes, “Show me your budget and show me how you’re going to pay for it over the long term.”

Too many times in Lowell’s past, city councils have sidestepped tough budgetary decisions. Whenever money is plentiful, as it has been recently due to Federal ARPA funds, spending increases. But government budgets always run in cycles that often don’t mirror the state of the broader economy. An unexpected dip in state revenue especially can trigger emergency cuts or lower annual appropriations than expected. When that happens, cities like Lowell face a financial crisis that requires fast and painful cuts.

In the budget now proposed by the city, the new positions proposed could yield great benefits. But rather than just lumping their cost onto everything else, there really should be some offsets found elsewhere, otherwise the risk of a future budgetary crisis increases.

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Increased fees for the water and sewer enterprise funds are also on the council’s docket. The proposed water increase would add $6.96 per quarter to the average water bill. The proposed sewer increase would add $14.21 per quarter to the average sewer bill.

The larger jump in the sewer cost is driven by a consent decree reached between the city and the Environmental Protection Agency which charged the city with violating applicable federal law on sewerage treatment. The city was in violation and the consent decree set a timeline for the city to do the work to rectify the problem. A big part of it is caused by “combined” sewer lines in Centralville. In that situation, waste water from houses and storm water drains run into the same pipe underneath the street. In times of heavy rain, the amount flowing into the pipe greatly exceeds the capacity of the city’s sewerage treatment plant and the excess “overflows” into the river untreated. Under the proposed project, the sewer lines would be “separated” so one would carry wastewater to the treatment plant and the other would carry stormwater, also to the treatment plant, but when a surge occurs, the stormwater stream could be diverted away from the plant. That water still carries pollutants but not to the same extent as the wastewater stream.

The new revenue from the sewer rate increase would help fund a large loan to pay for this work. In 2019, the city council authorized a $67 million bond for similar projects, however, under the consent decree, much more needs to be done and the existing loan would essentially be refinanced with a larger amount of principal – $175 million – authorized to be borrowed to meet the city’s commitments.

At the end of the City Manager’s letter to the council regarding the sewer rate increase proposal, there’s a good explanation of how these enterprise funds are supposed to work:

“The true purpose of enterprise accounting is such that the users pay for the costs of the service in a way that is proportional to their usage. This method is far more fair and equitable than the alternative: for the cost of the water operation to be borne by all taxpayers uniformly. By employing enterprise fund accounting, the rates are set commensurate with the operation and the city can be sure that entities which pay for utilities like water and sewer, but are exempt from taxes under state law are paying their fair share.”

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One area where I disagree with the use of “enterprise fund accounting” is for parking, at least at this moment in time. Theoretically, using the enterprise fund approach for parking makes sense. The people who use the garages and who park where curbside fees are in place should pay the cost of providing that parking.

But parking is not a strict fee for service operation. We provide parking in downtown to support businesses by encouraging people who do not live or work in downtown to visit there and shop, dine, or recreate. That’s something that benefits everyone in the city. The more downtown thrives as a business and cultural district, the more everyone in the city benefits.

This is especially true when it comes to the cost of a new garage such as the city’s Hamilton Canal District garage. Here’s what the city’s website says about this garage:

“A 900-space facility located within the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. Built in 2020, the garage is used to meet the needs of the growing innovation district. Points of Interest: Lowell National Park, Lowell Judicial Center, Northern Middlesex Registry of Deeds and 110 Canal.”

Right now, it seems like the only parking demand from the Hamilton Canal District comes from three of the entities cited: the registry of deeds, the judicial center, and 110 Canal Place. Even if all the users of those entities parked in the HCID garage, it would still be mostly vacant but at least it would yield a bit of revenue. Yet several years ago, the city transferred land to a private developer (the Lupoli Companies LLC) for the express purpose of building a parking garage right next to all three of these entities. Predictably, users and occupants of these facilities immediately migrated to the new privately owned garage and away from the city garage. While there may have been other reasons for allowing the construction of that private garage, doing so sabotaged the possibility of the HCID garage becoming financially self-sustaining.

Perhaps in the coming years when more things are constructed within the Hamilton Canal District the demand for parking will put more cars into the HCID garage. But that hasn’t happened yet and so that garage is running a huge deficit.

To make up this deficit, which is within the Parking Enterprise Fund, the city council boosted the parking rates for downtown garages. This falls primarily upon downtown residents who are a captive audience. To me, if someone lives in a condo on Prescott Street or Warren Street and parks in the Lower Locks Garage, forcing them to carry the cost of the unused HCID Garage seems unfair, especially when the purpose of that garage is to attract development into the Hamilton Canal District, something that would benefit the entire city.

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Thanks to the 80 people (and 3 dogs) who joined yesterday’s Lowell Walk of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.

I’ve just scheduled another walking tour, this one of the Little Canada neighborhood. The tour will take place on Saturday, June 29, 2024, at 10am and will start at the Coalition for a Better Acre at 517 Moody Street in Lowell. I will partner with Charlie Gargiulo to lead this tour. Charlie’s 2023 memoir, Legends of Little Canada recalls growing up in the neighborhood and the trauma experienced when Charlie, his family, and friends all had to move in advance of the Urban Renewal wrecking ball that demolished the neighborhood in the 1960s. During the tour, Charlie will point out places mentioned in the book and will supplement that with his own experience living there. (Legends is available from local publisher Loom Press.)

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My recent newsletter on the 1989 Lowell School Desegregation Consent Decree has generated considerable feedback. Many who are relatively new to Lowell either because of their youth or because they’ve moved here recently have mentioned that learning this historical context has helped their understanding of current Lowell politics.

Now, as the City Council begins the every-other-week summer meeting schedule, I hope to dig into my Lowell history files and write more newsletters on other past political issues during these “no meeting” weeks. There are plenty to choose from, but if there’s anything from Lowell’s political past that you’ve heard of and would like to learn more about, please send me a suggestion for that topic. My email is DickHoweJr[at]gmail.com.

Lowell Servicemembers Who Died In Vietnam War

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

This article originally appeared on this website on November 10, 2022, in recognition of the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. I’m reposting it today in honor of Memorial Day 2024. 

1965

Donald L. Arcand

September 1, 1965 – PFC Donald L. Arcand
19 years old.

Donald L. Arcand was born in Lowell on February 13, 1946. He lived on Ford Street in the Little Canada neighborhood and graduated from St. Joseph’s High School. He worked in a shoe factory until he enlisted in the Army in 1964. Sent to Vietnam, he served as a door gunner on a UH-1B helicopter of the 197th Aviation Company, 145th Aviation Battalion. On September 1, 1965, while escorting a ground convoy near Ben Cat, Arcand’s aircraft was hit by enemy fire and exploded in midair killing all aboard. Arcand’s funeral was held at St. Jean Baptiste Church and he was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

On Memorial Day 1969 (May 25), the new road connecting Father Morrissette Boulevard to Merrimack Street (part of the Northern Canal Urban Renewal Project) was dedicated as Arcand Drive and a monument in his honor was installed in Monument Square alongside the Ladd and Whitney Monument.

Donald Arcand’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 02e, Line 70.

 

1966

William T. Callery

February 22, 1966 – PFC William T. Callery
20 years old

William T. Callery was born in Lowell on August 16, 1945. His family lived at 134 Parker Street. He graduated from Lowell High in 1963 and worked at Hanscom Field in Bedford before joining the Army. He was assigned to Company A, 2/18 Infantry, 1st Infantry Division [see note below] and began his tour in Vietnam on January 19, 1966. Five weeks later, on February 22, 1966, he was killed in action by enemy small arms fire. His funeral was held on March 5, 1966, at St. Margaret’s Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

On May 22, 1966, the city of Lowell dedicated Highland Park as William T. Callery Park and erected a monument in his memory at the corner of Stevens and B Streets.

William Callery’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 05e, Line 59.

 

[Note about unit names: The primary fighting organization in the US Army in Vietnam was the battalion which contained about 500 soldiers organized into several companies. Through most of the Army’s history, battalions were organized into regiments. By Vietnam, the Army had done away with the regiment as an organization, however, battalions retained their historic regimental affiliation as part of their unit names. So, “2/18 Infantry” was the “2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment” or “2nd of the 18th” even though the 18th Regiment no longer existed.]

 

John J. Carville

May 1, 1966 – SP4 John J. Carville
20 years old

John J. Carville was born in Lowell on June 21, 1945, and lived at 11 Willow Street. He graduated from the Immaculate Conception School and Lowell High School. He enlisted in the Army on June 11, 1964, and was initially assigned to West Germany. He volunteered for Vietnam and arrived there on January 20, 1966, to serve with the 1st Squadron, 45th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division. He was killed by enemy shell fire on May 1, 1966. His funeral was held on May 10, 1966, at the Immaculate Conception Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

John Carville’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 07e, Line 16.

 

Peter Tsirovasiles

June 2, 1966 – PFC Peter Tsirovasiles
21 years old

Peter Tsirovasiles was born in Lowell on April 10, 1945, and lived at 176 Adams Street. He attended the Hellenic School, the Bartlett Junior High, and graduated from Lowell High with the class of 1964. He enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1965 and was trained as a medic. He arrived in Vietnam on January 6, 1966, and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1/28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. PFC Tsirovasiles was killed by enemy small arms fire on June 2, 1966, in Thua Thien province. His funeral was held on June 9, 1966, at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. He was buried in Westlawn Cemetery.

The city of Lowell dedicated a monument in his memory on the North Common.

Peter Tsirovasiles’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 08e, Line 1.

 

Rudolph H. Lefebvre Jr.

July 18, 1966 – CPL Rudolph H. Lefebvre Jr.
22 years old

Rudolph H. Lefebvre Jr. was born in Lowell on June 15, 1944. His family moved to Chelmsford but Rudy attended the Daley Junior High School in Lowell. In 1965 at age 19, he volunteered for the Marines. After training, he was promoted to Corporal, sent to Vietnam, and was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. He was killed by small arms fire on June 15, 1966, in Quang Tri province. His funeral was held on July 30, 1966, at St. Mary’s Church in Chelmsford. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Rudolph Lefebvre’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 09e, Line 33.

 

Joseph L. Vallee

July 26, 1966 – PFC Joseph L. Vallee
21 years old

Joseph L. Vallee was born in Lowell on July 20, 1945, and lived at 6 Cedar Street. He attended Lowell schools and graduated from Lowell High with the class of 1964. He enlisted in the Marines after graduation and was assigned to Vietnam with Company F, 3rd Battalion, 9th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. On July 26, 1966, Private First Class Vallee was killed by fragmentation wounds in Quang Nam province. His funeral was held on August 12, 1966, at St. Anthony’s Church. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Joseph L. Vallee’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 09e, Line 79.

 

1967

Paul L. Stewart

February 22, 1967 – SSG Paul L. Stewart
39 years old

Paul L. Stewart was born on June 14, 1927, in Lowell where his father was a student at Lowell Textile Institute. The family soon moved to West Virginia where Paul enlisted in the Army in September 1945. He made the military a career and had a number of overseas assignments before arriving in Vietnam on December 20, 1966, where he was assigned to Company A, 3/21 Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. On February 22, 1967, Staff Sergeant Stewart was killed by enemy small arms fire in Quang Nam province. His funeral was held and he was buried on March 2, 1967, in New Franklin, Ohio, where his parents were living.

Paul L. Stewart’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 15e, Line 76.

 

Peter N. Samaras

March 19, 1967 – MAJ Peter N. Samaras
36 years old

Peter N. Samaras was born in Lowell on March 23, 1931. He graduated from Lowell High in 1949 and attended Lowell Technological Institute for two years before enlisting in the Marines in 1953. He was commissioned an officer and trained as a helicopter pilot. By the time he arrived in Vietnam in September 1966, he was married and had six children, all living in Pensacola, Florida. A 13 year veteran of the Marines, Major Samaras was assigned to Marine Helicopter Squadron 163. On March 19, 1967, Major Samaras’s helicopter was shot down in Quang Tri province. He died from wounds suffered in the crash. His funeral was held in Florida.

In 1975, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Townsend Ave and Pawtucket Boulevard as Peter N. Samaras Square.

Peter N. Samaras’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 16e, Line 115.

 

Robert F. Bigelow

September 12, 1967 – PFC Robert F. Bigelow
20 years old

Robert F. Bigelow was born in Somerville on August 1, 1947, but moved to Lowell with his family at a young age and lived at 73 Asbury Street. He attended the Butler Junior High and was a member of the Lowell High class of 1966. He was the captain of the LHS basketball team and held a citywide track record for junior high students. He enlisted in the Marines and served with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. He was killed by an enemy shell fragment on September 12, 1967, in Quang Tri province. His funeral was held at the Sacred Heart Church on September 23, 1967. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Robert Bigelow’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 26e, Line 58.

 

Bruce R. Baxter

November 9, 1967 – MSG Bruce R. Baxter
36 years old

Bruce R. Baxter was born in Boston on September 28, 1931, but grew up in Lowell. At the time of his death, his mother, Mrs. Ellen Baxter, lived at 57 South Highland Street. Master Sergeant Baxter was a member of the 5th Special Forces Group (“Green Berets”). During a secret mission in Laos, he was wounded. An Air Force search and rescue helicopter picked up Baxter and another wounded Green Beret, but the helicopter was hit and burst into flames as it lifted off, killing all aboard. The body of Baxter and the five others who had been in the helicopter were identified but heavy enemy fire and bad weather conditions prevented the body of MSG Baxter and the others from ever being recovered.

Bruce Baxter’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 29e, Line 47.

 

1968

Richard J. Kelley

February 20, 1968 – 1LT Richard J. Kelley
22 years old

Richard J. Kelley was born in Lowell on August 3, 1945. He graduated from Lowell High School where he was a Carney Medalist and then from the College of the Holy Cross. After graduation, he became a Marine officer and arrived in Vietnam on June 27, 1967, where he was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. According to published reports at the time of his death, he drowned while trying to recover enemy weapons from a river in Quang Nam province on February 20, 1968. His funeral was held on March 12, 1968, at St. Michael’s Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Richard Kelley’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 40e, Line 42.

 

Robert L. Harrison

May 21, 1968 – SP4 Robert L. Harrison
25 years old

Robert L. Harrison was born in Boston but moved to Billerica with his parents at a young age. He graduated from Billerica High School in the class of 1961. He married and then moved to 18 Burns Street in Lowell. He worked at Tynan Electric Company in Billerica until he joined the Army in the summer of 1967. He was trained as a medic and was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. He was wounded in battle in Quang Tri province and died of his wounds at a military hospital in Japan on May 21, 1968. His funeral was held on May 30, 1968, at St. Mary’s Church in Billerica. He was buried in Fox Hill Cemetery in Billerica.

Robert L. Harrison’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 64e, Line 15.

 

Ronald E. Forget

June 8, 1968 – SGT Ronald E. Forget
21 years old

Ronald E. Forget was born in Lowell on June 18, 1947, and grew up at 39 Florida Street. He graduated from Lowell High, married, and worked at Millipore Company in Bedford before joining the Army. He arrived in Vietnam on August 5, 1967, and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3/8 Infantry, 4th Infantry Division where he served as a radio operator. He died on June 8, 1968, from multiple fragmentation wounds. His funeral was held on June 19, 1968, at St. Rita’s Church. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

In 1969, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Butman Road and Hovey Street as Ronald E. Forget Square.

Ronald E. Forget’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 58w, Line 3.

 

Ronald A. Skelton

July 22, 1968 – PFC Ronald A. Skelton
20 years old

Ronald A. Skelton was born in Lowell on June 22, 1948. He lived on South Highland Street, attended the Butler School and Lowell Trade High School. He enlisted in the Marines in the summer of 1967 and was sent to Vietnam where he was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. On May 3, 1968, while on patrol, Private First Class Skelton was severely wounded. He was evacuated and eventually made it to the US Navy Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts, but died from his wounds while a patient there on July 22, 1968. His funeral was held on July 25, 1968, at St. Peter’s Church. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

The city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Thorndike Street and YMCA Drive as Ronald A. Skelton Square.

Ronald A. Skelton’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 51w, Line 37.

 

Richard C. St. Amand

October 13, 1968 – PFC Richard C. St. Amand
20 years old

Richard C. St. Amand was born in Lowell on June 16, 1948, and lived at 11 Lilley Ave. He worked at Johan Fabrics then joined the Army, and arrived in Vietnam on September 7, 1968. He was assigned to Company B, 2/28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. He was killed by enemy small arms fire on October 13, 1968. His funeral was held on October 28, 1968, at St. Louis de France Church. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Richard C. St. Amand’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 41w, Line 61.

 

1969

Robert W. McCluskey

February 5, 1969 – PFC Robert W. McCluskey
20 years old

Robert W. McCluskey was born in Lowell on August 10, 1948, and lived at 50 Temple Street with his parents. He attended the Bartlett School, Daley Junior High and Lowell High, however, he left school after his junior year and enlisted in the Marines. He was trained as a machine gunner and was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He was killed in action on February 5, 1969, in Quang Tri province. His funeral was held on February 21, 1969, at St. Peter’s Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Robert W. McCluskey’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 33w, Line 66.

 

Walter J. Lemieux

March 9, 1969 – SP4 Walter J. Lemieux
21 years old

Walter J. Lemieux was born in Lowell on September 27, 1947, and lived at 21 Mill Street. He attended the Butler School, the Moody Junior High, and Lowell High School. He joined the Army and was trained as a medic. Specialist Fourth Class Lemieux arrived in Vietnam on December 6, 1968, and was assigned to Company C, 4/21 Infantry, 11th Light Infantry Brigade. He was killed by enemy small arms fire on March 9, 1969, in Quong Ngai province. His funeral was held on March 20, 1969, at St. Anthony’s Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

In 1998, the city of Lowell dedicated a park on Mill Street in the Back Central neighborhood as Walter J. Lemieux Park.

Walter J. Lemieux’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 30w, Line 90.

 

Peter J. Bouchard

March 28, 1969 – SGT Peter J. Bouchard
22 years old

Peter J. Bouchard was born in Lowell on September 21, 1946. He grew up with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Bouchard, at 124 Lilley Ave. He graduated from Lowell High with the class of 1964, married, and moved to Lawrence with his wife. He joined the Army in August 1968 and was stationed in Vietnam with Headquarters Company, 3/6 Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Sergeant Bouchard was killed in an accident on March 28, 1969, in Kien Hoa province. His funeral was held on April 7, 1969, at St. Michael’s Church. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Peter Bouchard’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 28w, Line 65.

 

1970

William J. Hodge

February 28, 1970 – SSG William J. Hodge
22 years old

William J. Hodge was born in Lowell on April 2, 1947, and grew up on Butterfield Street with his family. After graduating from Lowell High, he married and moved to School Street until he enlisted in the Army. Staff Sergeant Hodge arrived in Vietnam on September 24, 1969, and served with Company B, 1/16 Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. He was killed in action while serving as a platoon sergeant on February 28, 1970. His funeral was held on March 13, 1970, at St. Patrick’s Church. We was buried in St Patrick’s Cemetery.

The city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Carlisle and Gorham Streets as William Hodge Square.

William J. Hodge’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 13w, Line 68.

 

John Scott Keenan

April 22, 1970 – CWO John Scott Keenan
21 years old

John Scott Keenan was born in Lowell on November 17, 1948, and lived with his grandparents at 104 Viola Street. He graduated from Lowell High with the class of 1966 and then attended Northern Essex Community College. He married, had two children, and worked until joining the Army in January 1969. He was trained as a helicopter pilot and achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. He arrived in Vietnam on March 18, 1970, and served as a pilot in the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. His helicopter was shot down on April 22, 1970, and he died in the crash. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

In 1970, the city of Lowell dedicated the intersection of Chelmsford and Stevens Street as John Scott Keenan Square. In 2020, with the concurrence of his family, the city relocated the square to the intersection of Stevens and Viola Streets.

John Scott Keenan’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 11w, Line 36.

 

1971

Robert J. LaFlamme

January 13, 1971 – SFC Robert J. LaFlamme
39 years old

Robert LaFlamme was born in Lowell on June 24, 1931. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army and made the military a career. He was married with three sons when he was assigned to Vietnam. He arrived there on November 2, 1970, as a Sergeant First Class and was assigned to the 160th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade. SFC LaFlamme died of a heart attack on January 13, 1971. His funeral was held on January 22, 1971, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Chelmsford. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Robert J. LaFlamme’s name is inscribed on the VVM Wall on Panel 05w, Line 42.

 

City of Lowell monument to those who died in Vietnam. On grounds of Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

Pet Soundings

Pet Soundings

A Music Essay by David Daniel

Let me confess right up front. When the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album dropped fifty-eight years ago this month I was one of the naysayers.

In the early and mid-1960s you bought albums (such an exotic concept today!) based upon the appeal of singles that duked it out for position on AM radio playlists. In greater Boston that meant WMEX for rock ‘n’ roll, and for R&B there was WILD. FM stations—where the show “hosts” (not “DJs”) would speak in intimate tones and spin longer cuts and even entire album sides—were still a couple years away.

The initial single from Pet Sounds, “Caroline, No,” released several months ahead of the album, failed to strike sparks, prompting Capitol Records execs to worry. To their corporate ears (and checkbooks) the album was more a Brian Wilson solo venture, not extracted from the rich vein of SoCal ore the band had up till then mined with stunning success. Short of deep-sixing the entire LP project they rushed out as a second single, “Sloop John B,” which caught a bit of the old magic, reaching #3 on the Billboard charts, and the album followed.

I remember standing at the record racks in TV & stereo department of Gilchrist’s in Quincy, holding Pet Sounds. Decisions that involved spending the $2.99 on the $1.25-an-hour pay of a burger flipper required sober reflection. I considered the song listing—“That’s Not Me,” “I Know There’s an Answer,” “Here Today.” Nothing jumped out at me. True, “Sloop” was a good singalong on the travel bus to away basketball games, but it was a retool of a traditional song, not an original. And that photograph on the album sleeve. No surfboards, no street rods, no wahines in bikinis. Where were the bros in baggies and bleached hair? Instead you had five guys in cardigans, wearing “are-you-sure-these-things-won’t-bite?” expressions as they fed goats in a petting zoo. If this was supposed to lure the legions of fans living in Dubuque and Altoona and Syracuse looking to conjure a California vibe and hungry for the promise of fun, fun, fun, it was a bust. For me, the album had missed its moment. I left my wallet in my pocket.

Turns out I wasn’t alone. By 1966 the Beach Boys had enjoyed amazing success and stood second only to the Beatles in record sales (which may be news to Slim Whitman and Harmonica Willy fans); however, unlike their earlier LPs, Pet Sounds’ reviews were mixed and sales were off. Maybe, as music journalist Johnny Morgan opined, fans “wanted to dance, not sit in the dark listening to bicycle bells and dog barks.” So, yeah, no . . . I wasn’t an early adopter of Pet Sounds, and like something glimpsed in the rearview it faded from my life.

It didn’t reappear until several decades later, after I’d been to college, served in the army, had a writing and teaching career. I came upon a used copy (I still had a turntable), bought it and really listened for the first time. Among the heroes and villains on the disc there were none of the rock-steady teenage dudes of “I Get Around” and “Be True to Your School.” There was no curl-shooting hodad ready to spirit away pretty girl in his woodie; no gearhead revving hell out of his badass 409. In short, the album offered no manifestations of teenage cool that, back in the day, in my own lack of same, I had been expecting.

The characters of Pet Sounds are older, loners past the hormonal wash of adolescence and now vulnerable and uncertain about their lives. These are seekers in an uncertain world. Beach life, hot cars, burger stands, surfboards? Get real, man. Even the up-tempo songs have a plaintive note. So what changed? Where did this music come from?

Anyone who has seen Love & Mercy or read any of the countless articles and books about “America’s Band” will have some idea. Brian, his mind long tweaked by father issues, acid trips (an experience he described as “spiritual”), and the demands of his own ambition and early success, finally cracks. From 1962 to ’65 the Beach Boys had been delivering three albums a year, much of the load falling on him. Now he abandons touring to concentrate on writing and producing. Bands in those days often were more performing seals than creative artists. Albums were a mishmash of unconnected songs bundled around a hit single or two. Even for the Beatles it wasn’t until Rubber Soul (’65), and for Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited (’65), that the notion of “concept,” or album as art, took form. In the Beach Boys’ case it was Pet Sounds.

From his earliest music, Brian Wilson’s world was a reverse telescoping: California > my family > my town and school > my room . . . experiences he managed to universalize for listeners. With Pet Sounds the inward gazing achieves its apotheosis. While there’s never mention of larger externals—political assassinations, civil rights fights, war in Vietnam (leave all that to Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Marvin Gaye)—Wilson’s self-contained realm is not a peaceful one. The ground for the new work was already there in embryo in songs of adolescent introspection like “In My Room” (’63) and “When I Grow Up to be a Man” (’64), and expanded later in songs like “Til I Die” (’71) and “Sail On, Sailor” (’72), but here was an entire LP about isolation and loneliness, of feeling cut off, (“my friends when I told them said that’s not me…”), of a guy’s willingness to take it on the chin for his failings as a romantic partner. Pet Sounds plays like a threat assessment of the encroachment of GROWING UP.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is an annunciatory opener—but dealing with getting married!? “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” is a fine slow-dancer, but gone is the wistful ingenuousness of earlier songs (like “All Summer Long”—“Remember when you spilled coke all over your blouse…”: was there ever a more high-minded line? That belongs in the dictionary under Songs of Innocence, alongside the Everly Brothers’ “Only trouble is, gee whiz … I’m dreaming my life away”).

On Pet Sounds even a tender ballad like “Caroline, No” is an aching meditation on mutability and time. This ain’t the little (surfer) girl we once knew. “Who took that look away?/ I remember how you used to say / You’d never change, but that’s not true.” And the “change” theme continues on “Here Today” (i.e. gone tomorrow) and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Wilson later revealed that he did most of the singing on Pet Sounds because he needed to directly voice how he felt inside. And on two songs—“Let’s Go Away for A While” and the album’s title track—the music is so expressive no lyrics are needed.

The Beach Boys band members were ever only adequate musicians, never virtuosos. The virtuosity came in the form of Wilson’s writing, arrangements, and production. The sophisticated orchestrations and layering of voices, which elevate even the sometimes-anodyne lyrics, seem to rise from his hearing them in his head (possibly an ironic benefit of his being partly deaf in one ear?). While the band was on a world tour, Brian was at work at home, so aside from their singing, the others are largely absent on Pet Sounds, their instrumental duties having been handled by the top-tier session pros.

With adolescence and young adulthood such a locus for his music, it’s fair to wonder if Brian Wilson’s imagination ever got out of high school (I’m pretty sure mine never did). At the point of developing Pet Sounds, when he’d have been 23 (an age when John Keats was writing some of his finest poems), did Brian reckon himself at a crossroads? Attend to his own inner pulse or go on fulfilling the demands of fans who (like me) expected the old familiar. In this regard I was little different than Mike Love whose initial reaction to the album was supposedly, “Don’t fuck with the formula, Brian!”

But 1966 was a good year for fucking with formulas. Along with Pet Sounds (in May) there was Sounds of Silence (Jan.), Blonde on Blonde (Feb.), Aftermath (June), Revolver (Aug.) and Buffalo Springfield (Oct.), each in its own way revolutionary. Where Pet Sounds was a marked departure from the Beach Boys’ fare I was so connected to, is in thematics, orchestrations, harmonics, and technical innovations. It’s in the oddball choices, like the use in “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” of the theremin, an electronic instrument associated with scary movies (and which would shortly gain monster prominence on “Good Vibrations”). With the album’s layering of voices, ethereal instrumentation, tempo changes, choral effects there are times when it seems as if the music is going to collapse into cacophony, but it doesn’t. Wilson is in masterful control and the record is a sonic feast (great to enjoy with headphones).

Brian Wilson’s experiences with drugs and alcohol wouldn’t always be “spiritual”—would at times spiral out of control. And there was his mental illness. Pet Sounds would be (in this listener’s revised view) the band’s high-water mark. There were some popular and critically-hailed albums to come—the post-modern Surf’s Up (’71); and Endless Summer (’74), a two-platter serving of nostalgia—but the long-promised (and catastrophe-stalked) “teen symphony” Smile when it finally came, forty years late, was a head-scratcher that fell far short of its hype. By then brothers Dennis and Carl were gone, and the Beach Boys had settled into autoplay as a durable nostalgia machine. The “America’s Band” moniker—like being inducted into the R&R Hall of fame—was a gorgon’s kiss.

Maybe it was true as Brian had sung on Pet Sounds, he “just wasn’t made for these times.” In January of this year he lost his devoted wife Melinda; and the current news tells us he is now under guardianship as his dementia has worsened.

Enough. These are just one fan’s notes and oversimplified opinions. God only knows that musically I’m a slow study. It was years, for example, before I learned that Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitar,” was born Richard Anthony Monsour and grew up in the Lebanese section of Quincy Point, a mile from my home turf. But then, I didn’t need to know that, because aside from some noodling by Carl (like on “Miserlou,” an old Eastern Mediterranean folksong popularized in the U.S. by Dale) the Beach Boys were never really a surf band anyhow. Their musical inspiration was—go figure—the Four Freshmen.

Looking back across nearly six decades I think wouldn’t it be nice if my first reaction wasn’t to shy back from Pet Sounds but instead to embrace it. But I didn’t. I wasn’t looking for depth, I wanted sensation, a beat, the known. Ensnared in my own small world, I considered the album out of its time, when instead it is timeless.

 

LT Lorne Cupples and Cupples Square

Lorne Cupples was born in Canada to Simone and James Cupples and immigrated to the United States in 1886 when he was a child. He lived on Grove Street and married Lilla Simpson in June of 1905. Lilla sadly passed away in childbirth with the infant in March of 1907. Cupples married a second wife, Marion Corner in August of 1908. Active in the community he was a congregant of Saint John’s Episcopal Church and a member of the Ancient York lodge of Masons. Before joining the service, Cupples was the Superintendent of the Whitall Manufacturing Company in the Acre.

After the entry of the United States into World War I, Cupples entered Officer’s Training in August of 1917 and was commissioned a Captain in November of the same year. His enthusiasm to see action propelled him to take a reduced rank of Second Lieutenant so that he could go overseas and join the fight against the Central Powers. Cupples was assigned to the ordnance department of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion of the 26th Infantry Division.

Taking part in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in the Fall of 1918, Cupples received severe wounds to his stomach during the offensive. He died of his wounds on November 4, 1918 just a week before the Armistice that ended the war and was buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France. It was written at the time, “While he died the noblest of death of all, his many friends will be grieved to hear that he has crossed the great divide.” Cupples Square was originally dedicated in his honor in October 1923 under the direction of Mayor John J. Donovan and the American Legion Post 87.

The neighborhood shopping district in the Highlands formed by the intersection of Pine and Westford Streets known as Cupples Square was dedicated to Lorne Cupples in October 1923 and was rededicated in 2016.

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