Blaze of Glory: A Fall Guide to Military History

John Clayton takes you on a fall foliage tour of our state's military history from the French and Indian War to the War on Terror.
Kazimierz Pulaski statue Pulaski Park
By Susan Laughlin

Although autumn is a time of great beauty in New Hampshire, it is also a time for reflection. While some are content to drink in the temporary splendor of nature's remarkable palette, others choose to acknowledge something more permanent, such as the legacy of those who have served our country.

New Hampshire's cities and towns are laden with markers and tributes to the men and women we will honor on Veterans Day. The state's highways and byways also harbor small but moving reminders of the nation's many battles, ranging from the earliest colonial struggles to the current battles that rage in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One way to lend greater meaning to your autumnal sightseeing is to seek out the sites that serve to remind us of the freedom we enjoy, and those who fought and all too often died for it.

Southern New Hampshire

If you're going to use New Hampshire's largest city as the hub for your veterans-related voyage, you've already begun your tour if you fly into Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

The sleek aviation facility was previously a World War II-era Army Air Corps center that served as the primary staging base for heavy bombers en route to the war in Europe. The North Atlantic Wing of the Air Transport Command ran the massive airlift operation when the base was known as Grenier Field in tribute to Jean Grenier, a University of New Hampshire graduate and Army aviator who died when his plane crashed in Oakley, Utah, in 1934.

The best guide for your tour of the Queen City's many veterans-related sights is a hard-to-find booklet called "Manchester's Honored Veterans." Fortunately, a copy of the booklet is held on reserve in the New Hampshire Room at the city's Carpenter Memorial Library.

By using the library's copy machines – I'm one of the authors, and I hereby absolve you of any copyright violations – you can create a handy guide to sites that pique your interest, such as the soaring monument in Veteran's Park that was erected in 1879 to honor "the men who periled their lives to save the Union in the late civil war." Veteran's Park is also home to the city's new World War II Monument, plus POW/MIA tributes for those who served in Korea and the Vietnam War, and just across the city's main thoroughfare is the new statue honoring New Hampshire's Gold Star Mothers.

Other Queen City highlights include equestrian statues of Revolutionary War generals John Stark and Kazimierz Pulaski and the Spanish American War statue in Bronstein Park. The park itself was named for Lt. Ben Richard Bronstein, the first naval medical officer from New Hampshire to perish in World War II.

Manchester's Franco-Americans are particularly proud of the 40 & 8 Merci Box Car on the city's West Side – a carefully preserved gift from the French people following World War II – and the intimate monument in Victory Park that honors Manchester's Rene Gagnon, one of the six servicemen immortalized in the photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

My suggestion is to head south for the next leg of your journey along the F.E. Everett Turnpike. The roadway was designed by Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, leader of a World War II band of warriors known as "Merrill's Marauders." Upon his return from the war, Merrill served as New Hampshire Highway Commissioner, and on the stretch of the toll road that runs through Merrimack there is a bridge named in honor of his unit.

If you continue on that southward path, Nashua is well worth a stop. Among the city's more contemporary tributes to veterans is the Vietnam War Memorial Park on the grounds of the Ledge Street School, where a granite monument contains the names of the 18 Nashua-area men who lost their lives in the war.

In nearby Derry, citizens proudly claim to be the first community in the country to honor local living veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The polished granite monument in MacGregor Park – which stands nine feet high and weighs nine tons – was dedicated in May of 2008, and it occupies a place of honor alongside tributes to veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, Grenada and Panama.

Western New Hampshire

Moving in a clockwise motion around New Hampshire, in Keene's Central Square is the city's Civil War Soldier's Monument. It features a bronze statue of an infantryman – created by Irish-born sculptor Martin Milmore – and a plaque that proclaims, "Keene will cherish in perpetual honor the memory of her sons who fought for liberty and the integrity of the republic, 1861-1865."

Heading north from Keene on scenic Route 12, Charlestown beckons visitors to the historic Fort at No. 4. It was on the grounds of this living history museum where Major Robert Rogers – the leader of "Rogers' Rangers," whose exploits were immortalized in the Spencer Tracy film "Northwest Passage" – made history during the French and Indian Wars, and where Gen. John Stark mustered his troops before the pivotal Battle of Bennington during the Revolution.

Just upriver is the vintage milltown of Claremont, where Broad Street Park serves as the hub for a number of war monuments and artillery pieces, but perhaps the most poignant of the memorials is a bronze plaque dedicated to "The victims of September 11, 2001 and their families."

Should the rolling hills along the Connecticut River prove to be too tame for your taste, the drive along Route 11 from Charlestown to Boscawen by way of Newport should provide the topographical variety you seek.

Northern New Hampshire

If there is a site in New Hampshire where you may best appreciate the men and women who have served our country, it is at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery. More than 3,700 veterans and their spouses have been buried here – a number equal to the population of the town – since the cemetery was created by the New Hampshire General Court in 1997. A self-guided walking tour of the grounds is made meaningful by the 20 granite markers that provide an outline for more than 300 years of New Hampshire military history, and the cemetery also includes a Memorial Walkway that features monuments to several branches of the military, as well as the various wars in which those units saw action.

The adjacent town of Penacook is home to the Hannah Dustin Monument, which sits on an island at the confluence of the Contoocook and Merrimack rivers. No matter how you slice it, Hannah Dustin was a veteran of the first French and Indian War – also known as King William's War – although she was an unwilling participant.

In March of 1697, Hannah was taken captive by Abenaki Indians on a raid near her home in Haverhill, Mass. Moving north into Penacook, the raiding party made camp on that river island, and Hannah struck while her captors slept. Using the Abenaki's own tomahawks, Hannah and two other captives killed 10 of the 12 Indians – two escaped – and took their scalps as proof of their deeds. In 1874, she became the first American woman to be honored with a permanent statue in her memory. The site is accessible from Exit 17 off Interstate 93.

Since Penacook is situated along I-93, you'll have easy access to the Lakes Region, more specifically Weirs Beach. That's the forward operating base for the New Hampshire Veterans' Association, which dates back to 1875. The most visible elements of the association's storied past – ornate, gingerbread-style cottages – can be found along Lakeside Avenue. In its heyday, 14 units and regiments had cottages in the compound, which served as a restful haven for Civil War veterans. Today, NHVA members still use the eight remaining buildings and nearby campgrounds as weekly rentals.

From Weirs Beach it's a scenic and hilly jaunt up Route 3/104 to I-93 North, and once you reach Franconia Notch State Park, it's worth a stop at the eastern shore of Profile Lake. Although the Old Man of the Mountain is no longer there to greet you, a bronze plaque mounted to a boulder – dedicated in 1928 – honors "the men and women of New Hampshire who served the nation in times of war."

The long trek north along Route 3 will eventually lead you to the village of Stark, where you can ponder the notion of a prisoner of war camp in the continental United States. Beginning in 1944 – as documented by Allen V. Koop in his book "Stark Decency" – as many as 250 German POWs performed hard labor in the surrounding forests, supplying wood for the nearby paper mills until the camp was closed in 1946.

Alas, the only evidence of the camp's existence is a marker posted by the New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources, but there's plenty of scenery to savor on the southbound run down Route 16 from Stark to the Seacoast, where 300 years of military and veterans-related sites await.

Eastern New Hampshire

Consider New Castle's Fort Constitution – formerly known as Fort William and Mary – where, in December of 1774, several hundred men overpowered the six-man British garrison and removed quantities of military supplies, gun powder included, in one of the first overt acts of the American Revolution.

Neighboring Portsmouth was an early crucible for colonial shipbuilding. It was here where John Paul Jones supervised the building of the nation's first "ship of the line," the USS America and, more than two centuries later, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard remains a major repair and maintenance facility for America's fleet of nuclear submarines. Although tours of the shipyard are strictly limited for security reasons, the USS Albacore – whose design served as a prototype for today's nuclear Navy – is open to visitors at Albacore Park on Market Street.

In addition to sun and sand, visitors to Hampton Beach often come in search of the New Hampshire Marine Memorial. The monument – the first of its kind in the nation – features a graceful female figure who pays silent tribute to "New Hampshire's heroic war dead … lost at sea in defence of our country." The monument, which was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1957, is opposite the Ashworth-by-the-Sea Hotel on Ocean Boulevard.

Back to the Center

To complete your approximate circumnavigation of New Hampshire, it's best to head inland along Route 9/202 to Concord, where the New Hampshire Statehouse serves as a repository for a wealth of military history. The Hall of Flags features 107 battle flags representing New Hampshire's participation in wars of three centuries. One artifact you won't get to see, however, is a plaque honoring the New Hampshire men who served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. Conservative legislators claimed it was inappropriate to honor those who fought alongside Socialists and Communists in defense of the Spanish Republic. Thus, on the same day it was put up, the plaque was banished to the Statehouse basement.

Of course, the ultimate way to pay tribute to the men and women who served our country is to do so in person. The perfect place for that is the New Hampshire Veterans Home, which is just up the road from Concord in Tilton. Just as the colors of the seasons brighten our days, your visit is sure to do the same for the veterans who reside there. NH

The Statue That Toured the Town

On Memorial Day in 1911, a monument was dedicated in the square of Littleton, N.H., at the intersection of Main, Union and Cottage Streets, right next to the Town Hall. The proud Union soldier atop a granite stand was a gift to the town by one of its pillars, George H. Tilton, to honor "the citizen soldiers of the wars of the Republic." Within a few decades, trucks and other vehicles navigating the corner of Main Street were threatening the statue. In 1957, another local pillar of the community, public works contractor and conservative activist Kenneth Curran, offered to relocate the 16-ton statue to a safer spot at the entrance to the West Main Street Cemetery. According to news reports of the day in the Littleton Courier, Curran and his crew craned the statue onto a lowbed trailer and then decided to give it a tour of the town. Curran remarked that the soldier had been in the town square for 50 years and had never seen the new high school, so they made it a point to drive by the school on their way to the monument's new home, where the statue has kept vigil ever since.
– Rick Broussard

Blaze of Glory map

Hit the road and explore some of our favorite military and historical places in New Hampshire. The map below pinpoints the monuments, attractions and museums above.

View Blaze of Glory in a larger map

Categories: Fall and Foliage