WHITMAN — After 77 years, Army Pvt. Robert A. Lonergan came home — if only in spirit — as a memorial marker was unveiled at his family’s former home at 44 Broad St.
Lonergan, who lies in a U.S. military cemetery in Tunis, Tunisia where he was killed during the North Africa campaign when he stepped on a landmine. He had joined the Army at age 39, over the age for the draft and an employee of the NY, NH & New Haven RR.
“He [would have] enjoyed a deferment from the military service,” said Whitman Veterans Services Agent Thomas McCarthy during a dedication ceremony Saturday, Sept. 12Lonergan served for nine months before his death, serving with the 47th Infantry/9th Div., that landed in Safi Morocco in November 1942.
Lonergan was killed on the last day of the North African Campaign and was buried in the North Africa American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia along with 2,840 other Americans killed in that theater of operations.
He was Whitman’s first casualty of World War II. He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch presented Lonergan’s nephew, Patrick Huntington, with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Pvt. Lonergan’s honor.
“He didn’t have to go,” Lynch said to the small crowd of residents and town officials present. Selectmen Dan Salvucci, Justin Evans, Randy LaMattina and Brian Bezanson; Town Administrator Frank Lynam, state Sen. Mike Brady, D-Brockton, and state Rep. Alison Sullivan, R-Abington were among the officials present.
“There’s loyalty in the simple act of remembrance … especially during times like now, when there’s so much division in the country,” Lynch said. “It’s important at times like this that we come together for this purpose.”
Lynch, who chairs the House National Security Committee has been to Tunis and laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there.
“It is probably the most beautiful military cemetery in the world,” he said, noting the grounds are meticulously cared for and local office workers frequent the spot.
He also noted there are a large number of Massachusetts natives, many who served in the Merchant Marine, who are buried there.
“So Robert A. Lonergan is in very good company,” Lynch said. “But it is very important for us to keep faith with the spirit in which he enlisted. He stood up for our country at a time when it was desperately needed.”
“No memorial was ever done, so we thought it would be a good thing,” Huntington said after a ceremonial salute and the playing of “Taps” and “Echo,” by members of the Post 22 Sons of the American Legion honor guard. The family had asked that the marker be placed.
“He had a deferment, if he wanted to, and was also offered the opportunity to stay in the United States because of his age, and he turned that down,” Huntington said.
Lonergan’s parents Delia and Patrick immigrated to the United States from Ireland.
“Their first son gave his life for their adopted country,” Huntington said.
His brother Edward and Francis also served in the armed services during WWII. There were nine children in the Lonergan family. The family lived in the house until his last sister died in 2008.