There is some dispute about where and when the first Memorial Day was held but there is no question that the purpose of the day was to honor and remember those who died while serving in the military.
In recent years the Greater Lowell Veterans Council holds its ceremony on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. There are two parts: the first begins at 10am at the Ladd and Whitney Monument where a representative of each organization that is a member of the Veterans Council reads the names of its members who died since last Memorial Day. After the names are read, a wreath is laid at the monument, the firing squad fires a salute and the bugler plays taps.
The second part of the ceremony begins at 11am at Lowell Memorial Auditorium, sometimes on the front steps but mostly in the auditorium in recent years. There a speaking program is held, wreaths are lain on the various monuments on the auditorium grounds, another rifles salutes is fired, taps is played, and those in attendance cast flowers from the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge into the Concord River to commemorate those who have been lost at sea.
Beyond Memorial Day, the city of Lowell and its citizens honor veterans by naming things for them. There is no comprehensive list, but I believe there are at least 500 monuments, squares and other structures dedicated to veterans. Today’s virtual tour introduces a handful of these monuments and the soldiers and sailors they are named for:
Walker-Rogers VFW Post 662 on Plain Street. “Walker” was 1SGT Ralph Walker, a National Guard soldier from Lowell who died in Cuba of malaria during the Spanish-American War. “Rogers” was Fireman Third Class George Rogers, United States Navy, who lost his life on December 6, 1917, when his ship, the USS Jacob Jones, was torpedoed by a German Submarine.
Ouellette Bridge – carries Aiken Street across the Merrimack River. The bridge is named for Joseph Ouellette who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Korean War.
Shaughnessy School – The Shaughnessy Elementary School at 1158 Gorham Street is named for John J. Shaughnessy who was killed in action at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Arcand Drive which connects Merrimack Street with Father Morissette Boulevard, is named for PFC Donald Arcand, the first soldier from Lowell to die in the Vietnam War.
Vandenberg Esplanade – the grassy strip and walkway running along the north bank of the Merrimack River is named after Lowell’s Hoyt Vandenberg, the first Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.
Manuel Martin Square – The intersection of Central and Charles Streets is named for Manuel Martin, an 18-year old immigrant from Brazil who enlisted in a Lowell National Guard unit in February 1917 and who was killed in action in France in April 1918.
George Charrette Monument – Charrette was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor while serving in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War. His monument is at the intersection of Salem and Pawtucket Streets, across from University Crossing.