By Julia Purdy
N. CHITTENDEN—On Saturday, June 23, about 80 residents, friends and visitors gathered to witness the dedication of the Royal Baird memorial stone and flagpole in its new location at the junction of West Road and Stoney Hill Road in N. Chittenden.
Royal (“Jack”) Baird joined the Marines at age 17 in 1943, to die while serving in the South Pacific Dec. 1, 1944. He had grown up in the farming community of N. Chittenden and was the first documented casualty among the enlistees from that town.
His parents, Sara and Ralph Baird, placed a granite marker about half a mile below their farm on West Road, at the junction with Stoney Hill Road. A wooden flagpole stood by the stone on a small grassy triangle in the middle of the intersection for decades. It was something of a local landmark and helpful in giving directions to strangers. But several encounters with automobiles and snowplows led to the marker being moved to the roadside and finally to the grange hall in 2008, where it sat among the weeds for the next 10 years.
The grassy triangle remained, but last year the Chittenden Select Board voted to remove it entirely, for reasons of safety and road maintenance.
Today, the granite marker to Private Royal S. Baird rests on a raised platform of dry-laid fieldstone next to the road, below a brand-new 20-foot aluminum, solar-lighted flagpole, purchased with local contributions.
Speaking to the gathering, nephew Bob Baird, who still lives on the West Road farm of his grandparents, where he grew up, related several humorous twists to the story and said it was a “9-year process to get it from the Grange Hall to here … which I hope will be the last move ever.”
Baird thanked the Select Board and all who provided research and technical assistance, including Vermont Landscaping and Stonework, who constructed the platform, and Bill and Charlene Duffy, who donated a corner of their open land for the memorial.
Speakers included Royal’s niece Marilyn King, the oldest surviving relative, who described her “fascinating journey” researching her uncle’s story and shared personal reminiscences.
Burt Reynolds, 92, a USMC veteran of World War 2 and resplendent in full dress uniform, did not know Jack Baird but served during the same period and recounted examples of fellowship among the Marines in World War 2.
Spectators and friends had many warm comments.
Winnie Dennis, who moved to Chittenden in 1970 and worked at Killington, expressed appreciation that the event brought people together regardless of political persuasion. “It’s people recognizing important events,” she added.
Sheri LaPorte liked seeing the flagpole back up in a permanent spot again. She grew up here and has known the Bairds and other Chittenden families her whole life. “It seems like family although we’re not,” she said.
Vietnam War veteran and Chittenden resident Dave Sargent felt moved by the ceremony. He and his brothers all came back from Korea and Vietnam, but for him the soldiers’ memorials are reminders of the “heartache” of being separated from friends and family. “Unfortunately, people today don’t realize the importance of a monument that keeps the mind alive as to what happened,” he said.
Steve Welch, a veteran of the Vietnam era and co-president of the Chittenden Historical Society, commented that three generations participated, spanning the World War II era to the present and giving the ceremony special significance.
Hadley Mueller, 24, and her partner, Daniel Leonard, 28, have one foot in Chittenden and the other in New York City. They shared the sentiments felt by many who attended. Mueller, who grew up here, said she was struck by the numbers of people flocking to the ceremony from all directions. “It’s the symbol of what’s good in our country,” she observed. “Standing here watching everyone salute the flag and have my hand on my heart, I can say, in this moment, in this tribute, yes, I am proud to be an American.”
Leonard, who grew up outside Philadelphia, added, “I don’t know most of the people here but what I love about this town and this area is that because there are fewer people, we rely on people more, so it’s that much more important that you show up. … The last thing you’d want is something as beautiful and important as this to feel like it’s going by the wayside. … those roots are so deep in the community … Marine-to-Marine but also civilian-to-civilian, human-to-human, we’re all family because we all depend on each other and all support each other.”
After the brief speeches, Bob Baird and his daughter Jenna raised the flag. Taps followed, performed by Jacob Williams.
A locally-raised endowment has been established for maintenance in perpetuity. Private Royal Baird’s remains are interred in Evergreen Cemetery, Rutland.
Photo by Julia Purdy
Jenna Baird and her father, Bob Baird, raise the flag at the new Royal Baird memorial before assembled family, friends and neighbors.