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William J. Bennett Memorial

May 11, 1924

Once more we are gathered to dedicate a war memorial. The great conflict which waged across the seas in the spring days of six years ago is fading into the past. With it, too, is receding the wave of disturbance that following in its wake affected even this countryside that lies along the Mystic. We who live in this neighborhood were distant in fact from the front. In fancy, however, we were near it, for from homes that lie about this delta into the shifting line of battle went in numbers Medford boys who grew up in our midst. From one home nearby into the citizen army went William J. Bennett.

Within sight of this shaded corner he was born; by this delta he passed as a school boy to and fro; from this neighborhood he went on to college and came back [p. 59] trained in mind and body, fit for life and for success. Four years later, in September, 1918, that citizen soldier gave up his life near Toule, in France, stricken with fatal wounds while in the performance of duty.

It is significant that this tablet is dedicated so long after his final enlistment. It is in truth significant of the fact that memory does not fade with the passing of years, neither the memory of friends who knew him nor of the community that was his. In this dedication the City joins. This spot was, in fact, the first set apart by Medford as a beginning of its parks. This tablet here in this public space stands as a tribute of friends and neighbors. It stands, too, like the rock on which it is set, as enduring proof that the Republic holds in grateful memory those who serve her.

I shall not undertake to speak of Bennett as those may do who were associated with him as civilian and soldier. His civilian life ended with his enlistment in the army. He had hardly time to be more than school boy and college student, but these years of his clean young manhood brought him to the threshold of life marked as one for whom his fellows had admiration and affection. Of the Bennett of his college days who gained distinction in class room and campus, Professor McCollester will speak. Of the Bennett who still a youth became Master of Engineers in Company A of the 301st, Colonel Whipple may tell. It is for me to say for his home city that we gratefully dedicate this public delta to the memory of this citizen soldier.

The place is appropriate for in this neighborhood he lived. Here at home shall his name greet both friend and stranger. Indeed, the stranger in passing becomes his friend. Is it not so with the soldier tablet wherever placed? Before the public school where Bennett made his mark as a school boy is the honor roll memorial bearing his name among the two thousand that went from Medford into the Great War. Scattered over the serene slopes of Oak Grove are the names of youths of [p. 60] an earlier generation who fell in the Civil War. In the ancient cemetery on Salem street lie the heroes of the Revolution. Before the tablets that bear the names of those soldiers who belonged even to an earlier generation unknown to us, in the human heart conscious of their sacrifice arises a sense of obligation that makes us a friend of each of them. So it shall be here in future years. When strangers pause to read this inscription there will instinctively rise the figure of an upstanding youth who, at the age of twenty-five, gave up his life for them. It meant much to him to have friends. Shall it not mean much to those who lost him that through the coming years as long as this tablet stands these friends become an unending legion?

From this neighborhood in our time Bennett, the citizen soldier, went out in defense of liberty. In so doing he upheld the traditions of this region. For this is historic ground. Here came in the days of Sagamore John the English settlers who, in founding the Commonwealth, were both citizens and soldiers. The very street in front of us takes its course from the trails followed in Indian days. This way to the fish weirs at the Mystic became in later times the road to Menotomy. The street behind us, as the colony grew, as early as 1660 became known as a road around the woods. In all the years, through the slow growth of the settlement from the days of the Indian village to those of the colonial town and until the Republic was founded, the citizen soldier here established the tradition of service and sacrifice, to which this soldier of our time was true in his day.

By this spot, on the night of the nineteenth of April, 1775, rode Paul Revere. By this corner trooped the Minute Men of Medford on their way to Lexington. Near the old slave wall on Grove street, in the midst of fertile fields and woodlands, stood the house of the Reverend Edward Brooks. He, too, went over to Lexngton on that morning and by this corner in full bottomed [p. 61] wig rode on horseback, his gun on his shoulder. From the garret window of his house his son, Peter, who later set out these trees which shade us, at the age of eight heard the guns of the British at Menotomy and saw them glisten in the sunshine of that spring morning as the Redcoats marched toward Lexington. Here in the afternoon of that day, as the Minute Men came back down the road from Lexington, Abigail Brooks, patriot wife and mother, served chocolate—chocolate, no tea. The very ground where now we gather is alive with patriot memories of those stirring times which the citizen soldier made memorable.

Indeed, in the century and a half which has passed since that time, Medford has given her best to their ranks. In 1789 General Washington inspected the troops at Cambridge. Seeing the Medford Company on parade, he took great pains to ask General Brooks what corps it was, and, so history says, passed a high compliment upon it. In the line of march today are the 101st Engineers—among them our own Company E. It may with truth be said that in its seventy years the men of the Lawrence Light Guard have served with distinction from Bull Run to St. Mihiel.

Thus, in the earliest days was founded the tradition of which Medford is proud. Thus, at intervals in intervening years, whenever the curtain of time is drawn back, we glimpse the unending line of citizen soldiers marching on. In that moving column, the colonial blue and buff blends into the navy blue and again into the khaki. There we discern Bennett marching among the youth of our own day into the Great War now ended. As he gathered up his soldier's equipment and joined that great company, as he gave up his life in the midst of conflict, he upheld the tradition of his city and his neighborhood. This tablet, through his name that it bears, symbolizes both the proud tradition of the city and the response that was his,—the response of eternal youth.

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