Families of those who died while serving receive medals at Memorial Day events in Northampton, Williamsburg

Nicholas Gaudette,6, of Westfield, waits for the Florence Memorial Day parade to start as the rain begin  to fall on   Monday  morning, May 27, 2024.

Nicholas Gaudette,6, of Westfield, waits for the Florence Memorial Day parade to start as the rain begin to fall on Monday morning, May 27, 2024. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tom Pease president of the veterans council and  member of the VFW color guard post 8006, during the Florence Memorial day ceremony held after the parade on Monday  morning, May 27, 2024.

Tom Pease president of the veterans council and member of the VFW color guard post 8006, during the Florence Memorial day ceremony held after the parade on Monday morning, May 27, 2024. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Nicholas Gaudette, 6, of Westfield, waits for the Florence Memorial Day parade to start as the rain begin  to fall on   Monday  morning.

Nicholas Gaudette, 6, of Westfield, waits for the Florence Memorial Day parade to start as the rain begin to fall on Monday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Aida Jiggetts, a member of the John F. Kennedy Middle School cheerleaders, leads the squad in the Florence Memorial Day parade Monday morning.

Aida Jiggetts, a member of the John F. Kennedy Middle School cheerleaders, leads the squad in the Florence Memorial Day parade Monday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

During the Florence Memorial Day ceremonies on Monday, Joy Brennan receives a Medal of Liberty from Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe for her father, Edwin Malinowski, who was killed in action on Feb. 3, 1943.

During the Florence Memorial Day ceremonies on Monday, Joy Brennan receives a Medal of Liberty from Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe for her father, Edwin Malinowski, who was killed in action on Feb. 3, 1943. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Cathy Gazzil,10, Charlotte Nye,10, and Samantha Nye 6, lead the pledge of allegiance during  the  the Williamsburg  Memorial Day ceremonies Monday afternoon, May 27,2024.

Cathy Gazzil,10, Charlotte Nye,10, and Samantha Nye 6, lead the pledge of allegiance during the the Williamsburg Memorial Day ceremonies Monday afternoon, May 27,2024. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Ned Jalbert, a member of the American Legion Color Guard Post 236, during the Williamsburg Memorial day ceremonies Monday afternoon, May 27, 2024.

Ned Jalbert, a member of the American Legion Color Guard Post 236, during the Williamsburg Memorial day ceremonies Monday afternoon, May 27, 2024. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

During the Williamsburg  Memorial Day ceremonies Katherine Luce stands with members of her family after  receiving  a Medal of Liberty for her brother, John James Moynahan, who was killed in action March 17, 1972.

During the Williamsburg Memorial Day ceremonies Katherine Luce stands with members of her family after receiving a Medal of Liberty for her brother, John James Moynahan, who was killed in action March 17, 1972.

During the Williamsburg  Memorial Day ceremonies Katherine Luce  receives a medal of Liberty from LTC Chad Cormier, for her brother, John James Moynahan, U.S Army killed in action March 17, 1972.

During the Williamsburg Memorial Day ceremonies Katherine Luce receives a medal of Liberty from LTC Chad Cormier, for her brother, John James Moynahan, U.S Army killed in action March 17, 1972. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-27-2024 4:49 PM

NOTHAMPTON — Susan Loen still has the dozens of letters her eldest brother Kenneth Johnson wrote home from Vietnam to his parents and five siblings.

Some of the letters contained short funny tidbits, like Johnson wearing out the back of his pants and requesting a new pair. Others detailed the difficulties of life on military bases in Vietnam and the horrors of war. Most of all, his letters expressed how much Johnson wanted to come home.

Johnson, 18, would never make it back to Loen’s home in Florence. The young Marine was killed while on a perimeter patrol during the Siege of Khe Sahn, one of the battles of the Tet Offensive. His grave lies in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence, where people still remember Johnson as a kind, protective man who looked after the farm animals at Smith Vocational High School.

“One time there were some people coming up hurting these two younger guys and Ken stepped in and defended them,” Loen said. “I hadn’t seen these two guys for like 20 years, and they came up to me and said your brother saved us one time.”

Johnson was one of four veterans awarded Medals of Liberty, an award honoring veterans in Massachusetts who lost their lives on the battlefield, at Northampton’s 156th Memorial Day parade and ceremony on Monday. Due to the pouring rain, people packed the sides and back of the Northampton VFW meeting room at 10:30 a.m. to remembers the lives and sacrifices of the city’s veterans, including medal honorees Kenneth Johnson, Edwin Malinowski, Michael Francis Curtin and Thomas Michael Gutowski.

“There’s a saying out there when it comes to Memorial Day,” Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe said during the ceremony. “Our Armed Forces Day is for those that wear the uniform, Veterans Day is for those who took off the uniform and Memorial Day is for those who wear the uniform for eternity.”

The Medal of Liberty is a Massachusetts military honor given to veterans who were killed in combat, in a combat zone or during a military exercise. The award takes inspiration from the Purple Heart, a federal medal given to wounded or killed soldiers

The 30-minute ceremony began with two proclamations officiating the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers. Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra brought attention to the 91 soldiers from the city who died in the Civil War. Ryleigh Pease, 14-year-old granddaughter of commander of the VFW Post 8006 Tom Pease, then read General John Logan’s General Order No. 11, a declaration credited with the creation of Memorial Day.

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“I think it’s important that young people are part of the ceremony because it’ll help them get a better understanding of other people’s lives and how they can impact (your own) because people fighting in the war has shaped our lives today,” Pease said.

After a performance by Northampton High School’s Wind Essemble, the medal honors began with Technical Sgt. Curtain. Born in Northampton, Curtain played baseball at St. Michael’s High School before working at the Prophylactic Brush Company. He was drafted in 1942 and completed 30 missions as an engineer and gunner for the Air Corps.

In 1943, the B-17 plane Curtain manned came under attack by German soldiers during a bombing mission to destroy a ball bearing factory. His aircraft was struck by a bomb and crashed into the Bay of Biscayne, killing everyone on board. Curtain’s great-nephew Christopher Wenzel accepted the award for Curtain.

Patricia Coon accepted the award for her uncle Gutowski, a pharmacist and hospital corpsman during World War II. Gutowski served as a trumpeter, including aboard to USS Northampton, for four years before returning to his hometown of Northampton to work odd jobs. He reenlisted in 1942 and transitioned from musician to medic. During the invasion of Saipan, Gutowaki was hit by shrapnel while treating the wounds of other soldiers. He refused to evacuate and succumbed to his injuries while caring for his fellow soldiers.

Coon, who was only a year old when her uncle died, remembers very few details about her uncle besides the “purple valentine” next to his picture at her grandmother’s house. She can, however, recall the day in 1948 that her family lined up at the Northampton train station to greet the remains of her uncle, everyone crying around her.

“Pretty soon the train showed up and a big long box was brought out and it had an American flag on it. It was carried into the baggage room, which is now I think a bar, and we all followed it (into) there,” Coon said.

Born three days before her father’s death, Joy Brennan, who accepted the Medal of Liberty for Malinowski, has no memories of the Army medic. She appreciates the town’s efforts to honor the families who lost loved ones overseas, even 81 years after Malinowski’s death.

“It’s just keeping the memory alive. I think it’s nice for the families of past veterans to be remembered and this is a great award,” Brennan said.

Malinowski worked as a chauffeur and truck driver before he was drafted in 1942. While on his way to Europe, Malinowski’s ship was hit by a torpedo off the coast of Greenland, killing 674 passengers including Malinowski. It was the worst single loss of American personnel of any American convoy during World War II.

Prior to the ceremony, parade held marched down Main Street in a muggy drizzle. The short parade, believed to be the longest continuous running parade for Memorial Day in the United States, featured city departments, police and fire, and several groups like the John F Kennedy Middle School cheerleaders.

Williamsburg ceremony

A few hours later in Williamsburg, the town awarded Chest Jon Kmit and John Moynahan Medals of Liberty for their sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

Kmit served a year in the Army until he was shot and killed while attempting to assist his close friend.

Moynahan, who was a gunner and mechanic for helicopters transporting soldiers to and from the battlefield, died in 1972 when his helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.