Shelburne Falls committee puts ‘a local face’ on military service with annual commemoration

Shelburne resident Pfc. James E. Palmeri was a 20-year old Army infantryman when he died of combat injuries on Feb. 26, 1969. He was one of four Shelburne residents killed fighting in Vietnam and will be honored at ceremonies on Monday.

Shelburne resident Pfc. James E. Palmeri was a 20-year old Army infantryman when he died of combat injuries on Feb. 26, 1969. He was one of four Shelburne residents killed fighting in Vietnam and will be honored at ceremonies on Monday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Shelburne resident Pfc. James E. Palmeri was a 20-year old Army infantryman when he died of combat injuries on Feb. 26, 1969. He was one of four Shelburne residents killed fighting in Vietnam and will be honored at ceremonies on Monday.

Shelburne resident Pfc. James E. Palmeri was a 20-year old Army infantryman when he died of combat injuries on Feb. 26, 1969. He was one of four Shelburne residents killed fighting in Vietnam and will be honored at ceremonies on Monday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-24-2024 12:41 PM

SHELBURNE — The Shelburne Falls Memorial Day Committee is planning a commemoration on Monday to honor one of the four Shelburne men killed fighting for their country in Vietnam, with the intention of celebrating the others on a rotating basis in the years to follow.

Pfc. James E. Palmeri was a 20-year-old Army infantryman when he died of combat injuries on Feb. 26, 1969. His memory will be cherished as part of Memorial Day festivities slated to start with a parade at McCusker’s Market at 10 a.m. and end with a ceremony at Arms Cemetery about 40 minutes later.

“We decided to do it because we obviously want to honor all those who gave their lives for this country, but we just want to put a local face on it,” Memorial Day Committee member David Kearney said, “so people know there were people from this town who died for this country.”

Palmeri’s sister, Judy Richardson, said about 25 family members plan to be in attendance, including a nephew who will deliver a few remarks. Richardson said she was 14 years old and sitting on her family’s living room floor at approximately 9:30 p.m. when she saw headlights pull into the driveway. The person she saw get out of the vehicle was the local parish priest.

“We knew that he had died,” she recalled about her brother. “It was not a good time, but a lot of people went through it.”

The other Shelburne men who laid down their lives in Vietnam were Capt. Paul Thomas Looney, Petty Officer 1st Class William K. Batchelder, and Specialist Ronald Edward Wissman, who all died in May 1967. Richardson said it is an honor to have her late brother commemorated by his community.

Another person who plans to attend Monday’s ceremonies is Bob Bassett, Palmeri’s friend and Arms Academy classmate.

“He was good kid — always laughing, full of fun. He really was just always pretty joyful,” Bassett recalled. “Really easy-going guy, all around.”

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Bassett said he and Palmeri grew up together, attending school from kindergarten through 12th grade. The two had an industrial arts class together, with Palmeri’s father serving as their teacher.

Bassett, 76, said Palmeri was unable to be at his wedding in 1968 but attended a small celebration later, not long before he was killed. Palmeri died of wounds sustained in the Gia Dinh Province in South Vietnam.

“It’s always devastating when you lose somebody,” he said.

A parade is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. outside of McCusker’s Market on Monday. The first stage of the parade will stop at either the Iron Bridge or the Bridge of Flowers. After that, the parade will proceed to the Arms Library, where there will be a dedication to the women and men of the United States military. The final stage of the parade will end at the Arms Cemetery for a ceremony at around 10:40 a.m. William Mazanec III, a Greenfield District Court judge, is expected to be a guest speaker. Any children in attendance will get a coupon for a free ice cream, compliments of Mo’s Fudge Factor.

Kearney, a military veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said he never knew Palmeri, having been born the year he was killed, but he grew up across the street from the man’s family and recalls a memorial flag that flew on that property around the clock, with proper lighting.

“I remember that vividly,” he said.

The Shelburne Falls Memorial Day Committee consists of Kearney, Doug March, John Chadwick, Jackie Goodman, Joe Judd and the members of the Shelburne Falls Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8503.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.