Municipal Spotlight: Color Bellingham Purple, As in Purple Heart
Feb 27, 2020 06:00AM
● By Pamela Johnson
written by KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer
Bellingham has a new label— it’s now a Purple Heart town. Thanks to Jim Hastings, who serves as chairman of Bellingham’s Memorial and Veterans Day committees, that designation became official when the town’s Selectmen signed a proclamation last November. The concept was conceived, however, when Bellingham hosted the replica of the Vietnam Memorial (The Wall That Heals) last August.
"My truck was parked at the Middle School, and Tim Ryan, who’s the retired police chief of Millville, was taking a picture of my Purple Heart license plate," Hastings said. "He asked me some questions about the plate, and during our conversation he informed me that Millville was a Purple Heart town."
At a later date, Ryan showed Hastings a proclamation that designated Millville as a Purple Heart community. “I took notes and showed the proclamation to Town Administrator Denis Fraine,’’ Hastings (pictured left) recalled. "I asked Denis (Air Force veteran) if Bellingham could be designated that way, and he said 'yes' without any hesitation. He approached the Selectmen, who were receptive to the idea, they signed a proclamation designed by students at Blackstone Valley Tech, and it was a done deal."
A Purple Heart is an award given to an individual who's wounded while serving in combat. The award can also be presented to someone wounded while combatting international terrorism. Hastings noted that the award was originally called "The Badge of Merit." George Washington presented the first awards to three soldiers during the Revolutionary War on August 7, 1782. At that time, the Badge of Merit was awarded for bravery. Washington gave the award to boost morale because there were no honors for enlisted personnel.
Hastings indicated that the reason he wanted the label was "to show appreciation for Bellingham’s servicemen and -women who were wounded during combat operations while serving their country."
Motorists entering Bellingham will see signs at five locations that show it's a Purple Heart town. The signs have been installed at the Bellingham-Medway line on Rte. 126; at the Bellingham-Blackstone line on Rte. 126; at the Bellingham-Mendon line on Rte. 140; at the Bellingham-Franklin line on Rte. 140; and on Rte. 126 opposite the Rte. 495 exit on the north side.
A ceremony dedicating Bellingham as a Purple Heart town will be scheduled at a time to be determined. "The ceremony will be at one of the signs," Hastings said, "and the date very likely could be August 7, which is Purple Heart Day."
Hastings' research reveals that 110 of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns have Purple Heart designations; nearby Purple Heart communities include Holliston, Millville, Grafton, Foxboro and Wayland.
The 72-year-old Hastings was in his third year as a Marine when he was wounded while serving in Vietnam in 1968. He suffered injuries from gunshots to both legs and his right arm. He was awarded the Purple Heart while he was recovering off the coast of Vietnam on the USS Sanctuary.
Hastings indicated that Bellingham’s Purple Heart recipients will likely be honored at the town's Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies this year.
Former and current residents of Bellingham who were awarded a Purple Heart for service in Vietnam include Walter Caniff (USMC), James Coppinger (USMC), Michael Crawley (USMC), Edgar Ferland (USMC), James Ferrone (U.S. Army), Stephen Grey (USMC), Brian Hughes (USMC), George Leduc (USN), and Gerard St. Germain (USMC).
Raymond Richards III is a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq, and Purple Heart recipients who moved to Bellingham include Paul Thibault, Patrick Pisani, Joseph Oulette and Hastings. Anyone from Bellingham who’s received a Purple Heart and is not listed should contact Hastings at 508-369-6227.
"I'm pleased the town has been designated as a Purple Heart community," Hastings said. "It’s a great way to show our appreciation to those who've served their country in such a brave and courageous fashion."