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Veterans Memorial in the Works in Norwich

Norwich — The local American Legion post wants to commemorate post-Vietnam War veterans from Norwich with a new monument on Beaver Meadow Road. There’s only one problem: The group can’t find them.

When Jim Harlow, commander of the Lyman F. Pell American Legion post in Norwich, was drafted in 1969, a record of it was preserved with the town and the state. Later, when the post erected its Vietnam memorial, it was easy to find the names of those who served.

Now, the American Legion members are casting a much wider net, searching for anyone who served in the armed forces since 1975, not just combat veterans.

“Post #8 is requesting the assistance of Norwich and Upper Valley residents to identify those who entered military service from Norwich, returned to Norwich following their service, or retired from military service while a resident of the town,” the organization said in a news release this month.

Harlow attributed part of the difficulty in finding names to the changing nature of the town, which doesn’t hold together in the same way as years before.

“It’s a very transient society now; people drift in, people drift out,” he said.

Because they don’t want to leave anyone out, the American Legion members are vague on when the monument will go up — and even on what it will look like — though they know that the structure, with a plaque and a granite body, will resemble the other monuments next to their building off Beaver Meadow Road. They haven’t even started raising money yet, said Gary DeGasta, a member of the Norwich post.

“As an ex-military man, I would say months, but the last monument (the Vietnam monument) took years,” Harlow said.

Part of the reason for that was the political climate when it was built in the 1980s, he said. Harlow remembered that when Thetford discussed putting up a similar memorial, a man stood up at a town meeting to demand that his name appear on it — not because he had served, the man said, but because he had protested the war, and therefore had done as much as anyone else to stop it.

The monument ended up having no names. It simply reads, “To all who served,” Harlow said.

But now, Harlow, who retired from the army as a first sergeant in 1992, senses that the public feeling toward veterans is different.

The American Legion needs around 50 names, yet after months of searching, including a booth at the Norwich Fair and posts on the town email list, they’ve only collected about half that number, DeGasta said.

Veterans are more likely to come forward “once (they) are aware that they or a loved one can be immortalized,” he said.

The news release invites anyone who served without a dishonorable discharge to contact Demo Sofronas, who is in charge of gathering the names, at demosofronas@gmail.com.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.