Righting a wrong for one Leeds veteran

  • The 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A bear watches from a tree over the war memorial in Leeds Sunday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tome Pease and Jack Miller and Francis Robles in the Post the colors during the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich LaBarge, touches his name on the Vietnam memorial in Leeds. His name had originally been forgotten and recently added to the memorial during the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • George Pappas takes a picture of the Vietnam Memorial in Leeds with left, Zack Pappas, Richard LaBarge, David McGrath and Tim Meehan. They all gathered to find Larbarge’s name which originally was left off the memorial. It was added during the Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Leeds. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tome Pease and Jack Miller and Francis Robles in the retire the colors during the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jack Miller plays taps during the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Earl Meunier and Bruce Walker during the placing of the wreath at the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich LaBarge, looks for his name on the Vietnam memorial in Leeds. His name had originally been forgotten and recently added to the memorial during the 2018 Memorial day Ceremony in Leeds Sunday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

@ecutts_HG
Published: 5/27/2018 10:41:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The annual Memorial Day commemoration in Leeds was a time not only to remember the men and women who lost their lives serving their country, but a day on which a wrong was righted for one area veteran.

Nearly 100 people attend the ceremony Sunday afternoon. Traditionally, it’s held at the Veterans Memorial Park but it was moved into the Leeds School due to rain. Students from the school — fourth-graders Anna Mansfield, 9, and Isaac McDonough, 10 — read the Gettysburg Address and led the crowd in the Pledge of Alliance.

Decades ago, when the plaque bearing the names of those Leeds residents who served in Vietnam was installed, Richard LaBarge Sr.’s name was left off. Navy veteran and former city councilor Gene Tacy spoke of the “glitch or misstep.” The efforts to get his name on the wall involved the work of Veterans Council president Brad LeVay, a Marine Corps veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart.

LeVay said he learned of the issue a year ago and vowed to get LaBarge’s name on the wall even if he had to chisel it in himself, he said.

LaBarge was drafted in September 1961 and was discharged two years later. During that time he served as an artillery surveyor in the U.S. Army in Thailand. LaBarge and his friend Tim Meehan were drafted into the military at the same time, but Meehan’s name appeared on the wall and LaBarge’s didn’t.

Tacy also highlighted the freedoms afforded to Americans and the sacrifice many have made to protect them.

“Maybe you protested something that was offensive to you at some time or maybe you had to listen or see someone protesting something that was offensive to you at some time,” he said. “These freedoms and liberties are not free. They are at the expense of over a million lives fought and died for them.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and Steve Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, spoke of the importance of remembering Memorial Day as more than the unofficial start to summer.

“It’s really, really important that everybody always remembers what Memorial Day is about,” Connor said. “If you want to know some of the reason we do it, come out in front of Memorial Hall and look at the Northampton Remembers monument. Every name on that monument is someone who died in action, protecting our country, protecting our rights. It’s a heavy day but it is an important day.”

That memorial and ones like it, Narkewicz said, make him proud to live in and be the mayor of a city that takes its obligation to remember its veterans seriously.

Following the ceremony, LaBarge and his family and friends headed out to the memorial park to find his name on the wall. Overlooking the crowd, a mother black bear and her two cubs watched from up in a tree.

“He was heartbroken about it,” said Marianne L. LaBarge, his wife and Ward 6 city councilor. “He was forgotten. Now he is not.”

Richard LaBarge said he learned that his name had been added to wall about an hour before the ceremony through a phone call from his brother-in-law.

Seeing his name on the wall among his fellow Leeds residents who had served in Vietnam, LaBarge said he was happy.

“I served my country honorably,” he said.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

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