When calls for freedom, equality, natural rights and independence rang through the British colonies around 1776, 54 Wampanoag men from what is now the Town of Mashpee enlisted to fight in the Revolution.
Fourteen died in the line of duty.
On Thursday, September 3, the Town of Mashpee enshrined the names of those fallen veterans—and the 11 additional Mashpee veterans who died in the nation’s subsequent wars—on plaques set in stone in the Veteran’s Garden across from Mashpee Town Hall.
In total, 25 memorials for Mashpee veterans who died in the line of duty now encircle the Veteran’s Garden.
“They fought in the war, and then they took away their liberties after,” said Earl H. Mills Sr., a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, of his 14 ancestors who fought and died in the Revolutionary War.
After the Revolutionary War, historians say the Wampanoag people faced a long history of subjugation and paternalism at the hands of the United States and Massachusetts governments despite having fought and died for principles of equality and freedom.
Of the memorial, Mr. Mills, who is himself a veteran of the Korean War, said, “What it means is that we’re finally as a town recognizing that there was a whole group of people, native people, who fought.”
Among the 25 fallen veterans is the brother of Mr. Mills, Ferdinand L. Mills, who served as a staff sergeant in the US Army Air Force in World War II.
“He had been in Africa, Italy and France,” Mr. Mills said, using his cane to point to the memorial for his brother.
Ferdinand Mills died in Italy on May 8, 1945, V-E Day, the last day of World War II in Europe.
Under a misty September rain, Francis Fermino, also a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, noted the presence of his cousin, Vernon M. Haynes, among the fallen veterans memorialized on the plaques.
Mr. Fermino said he has fond memories of his cousin who he said was a “damn good boxer” and was “just getting ready to come home.”
Mr. Haynes served as a private first class in the US Marine Corps before being killed in action in the Battle of Okinawa in Japan on May 17, 1945.
Of the installation of the stones memorializing the fallen veterans, Mr. Fermino said, “I think it’s the greatest thing going.”
“They stepped up for it,” he said of Mashpee’s veterans.
The individual plaques for the veterans who died in the line of duty include the name, rank, branch, the year the veteran died and the war they fought in.
For some veterans, the exact circumstances of their death is lost in the fog of history. For others, historical records and documents reveal the moments leading to their death.
Steven A. Peters Jr., a Wampanoag man who served as a private in the Army Air Force during World II, was killed in action on July 13, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy, France, according to Richard DeSorgher, a member of the Mashpee Historical Commission.
Azariah G. Brown, a private in the US Army during the Civil War, died on January 4, 1865, at Point of Rocks, Virginia, at age 18. Mr. Brown, a Wampanoag man, was buried at City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Virginia, Mr. DeSorgher said.
Alonzo Godfrey, also a veteran of the Civil War, enlisted with the US Navy on August 12, 1862, and died in December 1864 at a naval yard hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“This one is kind of tragic,” Mr. DeSorgher said, citing medical records leading up to Mr. Godfrey’s death.
Medical records show Mr. Godfrey was hospitalized on November 29, 1864.
“Appetite poor, diarrhea, pulse weak, trembling, his cough troubles him,” the records from his first day in the hospital said.
By December 1, Mr. Godfrey had improved: “diarrhea, strength a little better,” the records state.
The next day, Mr. Godfrey’s ailment had worsened again.
“Not as well, pulse very feeble, cough constant, taking little food,” the medical records state.
The records note “no improvement” and a “weak pulse” on December 3. The medical records note at 4 PM “failing,” at 9 PM “complaints of pain in back,” and at 10 PM, “died quietly.”
The individual plaques for these 25 Mashpee veterans who died in service of their country are part of a larger project that will include the name of every Mashpee veteran who has served in the military since the Revolutionary War.
Planned for construction just feet from the Veteran’s Garden, the new memorial will include the names of 230 Mashpee veterans, Mr. DeSorgher said. He hopes the installation of the memorial, which has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will occur by next spring.
The multiphase memorial project is funded through Town Meeting appropriations through the Community Preservation Fund and with a grant from the state.