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This Old Town – In Their Honor

Peter Kristof, killed in Vietnam (left); Stephen Hinkley, killed in Vietnam.

By Richard DeSorgher
Hometown Weekly Correspondent

The coronavirus may have cancelled the Memorial Day parade, but nothing can cancel the bravery of those who gave their lives for our nation. Medfield certainly has a long history of brave veterans who answered their country’s call, including 35 who gave their life, never returning back to their hometown. 

After having served under General Washington during the siege at Dorchester Heights and the evacuation of Boston, Jabez Boyden joined the Continental Army, left his Medfield home on South Street with friend and neighbor Lemuel Thomson, and marched out to the newly-captured American fort on Lake Champlain called Fort Ticonderoga. Boyden and Thomson would never return to their hometown, nor would they live long enough to see their dream of an independent and free country. Both died of disease in the service of their new country, and were buried in the fields outside the walls of Fort Ticonderoga. Samuel Cole enlisted into the Continental Army at the age of 16 and was also sent to Fort Ticonderoga. There in a skirmish, he and his company were forced to retreat, hotly pursued by the British. At last, as the research shows, Cole gave out, exhausted, and said “I can’t go any further,” then sat down. A British soldier in pursuit shouted, “You are my prisoner.” Cole’s reply was to raise his musket, sending a musket ball into his captor, killing him. Cole was then instantly hit by the musket balls of the British soldier’s comrades, killing him. 

In 1860, news reached Medfield of the attack on Fort Sumter and 20-year old Allen Alonzo Kingsbury left his family farm on South Street, said goodbye to his mother Mary, his dad James, his sister and brother, and walked to Chelsea to enlist. After fighting in the war for over two years, Kingsbury was killed on April 26, 1862, in a charge on Confederate works near Yorktown, Virginia. Eighty-two Medfield men took part in the Civil War and fourteen of them were killed. Ten were killed in action, including the two Chenery cousins, 21-year-old James and 17-year-old John, who were both killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. Eleven Medfield men were captured and taken prisoner by the Confederates, including William Vennon, who died in Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia, on December 8, 1863 due to disease.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany. One hundred and sixty-three served in WWI from Medfield. The first Medfield soldier to die during the “Great War” was William Beckwith, who died at age 18 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois of appendicitis. His brother, Wesley Beckwith, age 17, was drowned on October 6, 1918, when the British Transport Ontario and the Transport Kashmir collided in the waters off Ireland. John “Earle” Kerr was the first Medfield man killed in action during the war. He was killed September 16, 1918 by enemy shellfire while on detached service at Chery Chartreuves, France. He lies today buried in the church cemetery in that village. Also dying in the war were Silas Arsenault, Arthur Cleversee, Ralph Leighton, Herbert Paine, Harrison Ryan and Clarence Cutler. 

Three hundred and ninety Medfield men and women served during WWII. Ten would never return. Ocran Knehr was the first to die when his plane slammed into the cliffs off Reykjavik, Iceland during our undeclared war in the North Atlantic. Killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor was Radioman 3rd Class Joseph Pace of Green Street. John Crowder of Miller Street was killed at the age of 23 during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Thomas Clewes died of wounds suffered by Japanese machine guns in Bougainville, Solomon Islands. At age 22, Richard Werner of Harding Street was flying a B-24 Liberator with 12 other crew members. Under enemy fire, the plane was hit and was last seen heading towards Corsica. Werner’s body was never found. During the invasion of Okinawa, the landing craft of John Ross was hit by a Japanese kamikaze and John sustained wounds of which he died June 4, 1945. Also to die from Medfield during the war was Vincent P. Bravo, who was a flight engineer on a B-26 bomber. His plane crashed in northern Scotland on route to a combat mission over Europe. On August 1, 1944, during the great Allied breakout of Normandy and the campaign to liberate France, Robert Sproul’s B-17 was shot down over France. All on board were killed. Earl Lee, a tail gunner with the 707th Bombing Squadron, was shot down and killed in a bombing run over German-occupied Europe. Douglas MacKeatchie’s plane crashed into the Atlantic during a flight from the US to England. All on board were killed.

George Snyder was killed during the Korean War. Two teenagers, both graduates from Medfield High School, Stephen Hinkley and Peter Kristof, were killed in Vietnam. Stephen, class of 1967, was killed the day before his 20th birthday, when he was hit with mortar fire in the Quang Tri section of Vietnam. Peter Kristof, age 19, of Belknap Road, died of enemy grenade fire, also in the Providence of Quang Tri, on August 10, 1969. Peter was a member of the class of 1968.

Coronavirus or no coronavirus, each of them gives us something to remember and honor this Memorial Day - and something we must never forget.

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