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Finneran: Cue the Parade

Friday, March 01, 2019

 

Bostonians and Bay Staters have been spoiled this century by the proliferation of parades celebrating their teams’ titles.

For kids under nineteen years old, they probably feel as if it’s a Boston birthright to take a day off from school and go cheer their heads off for the local heroes of the moment.

Consider these titles: Celtics—2008, Bruins—2011, Red Sox—2004, 2007, 2013, 2018, and of course the Patriots—2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016, and 2018.

That’s a lot of parades and a lot of confetti.

To be sure, there’s a charade to all this noise celebrating “our” teams. The players come and the players go, the only constant being the Boston or New England name on the uniform. Free agency confers freedom upon the players and that freedom confers movement to and from our fair city. Some wise sportswriter, I think that it may have been Dan Shaughnessy, noted that in the era of free agency we now “root for the laundry”. How true.

In any event, I have an idea for a different kind of parade, a monster celebration which I pray might actually happen. I lifted the idea from a recent story by Brian MacQuarrie of the Globe, a story in which Brian introduced his readers to Clarence Smoyer. Thank you to the Globe and to Brian for such a compelling piece of history.

Clarence Smoyer was a gunner on a Sherman tank in 1944-1945. He was all of nineteen years old, fighting his way across Germany, pasture by pasture, forest by forest, and street by street. It was deadly fighting. The German army was skilled and tenacious. German tanks were awesome lethal weapons. Any World War II veteran winces in pain at the thought of a firefight with German Panther or Tiger tanks. And the fact that the Germans were now fighting on their homeland soil made any forward Allied movement grim in cost and grudging in progress.

Clarence Smoyer, like every World War II veteran, is now in his nineties, not quite as spry as he was back then. But as a soldier and a survivor he has a keen appreciation for the men with whom he fought and the glories of American armament. At a recent event at the Charlestown Naval Yard complex, Clarence rode on top of a Sherman tank. His quote upon seeing “his” tank conferred a heartfelt humanity on a huge piece of cold deadly steel. That quote says it all:

“Here’s an old friend. This tank saved my life. It’s a beauty”.

The Globe story had some vintage photos of Clarence and his fellow crew members as well as a German tank that they had incinerated on the mangled streets of a bombed-out and ruined Cologne. These were young men, some still only kids, playing their part in a kill-or-be-killed real life drama. Hats should be off and heads should be bowed to them and their sacrifice. In Churchill’s immortal words, every dawn brought forth a noble chance. It should also be noted that every dawn brought with it the promise of death.

The story noted that today there are only three survivors out of Easy Company’s 200 men. The passage of time has taken the toll that the Germans did not take in those deadly frightful battles.

And thus my idea for a parade: Someone, perhaps the Governor, perhaps the Mayor, perhaps the various veterans’ posts, or perhaps the Globe itself, should organize a salute to the surviving members of World War II. There’s not much time left for these brave once-upon-a time young kids. Fly in at least one such survivor from each of the fifty states. Put them up at Boston’s best hotels and give them the grandest tours of Boston and Massachusetts. It should be a week-long celebration, topped off by a real parade for real heroes. Cue the duck boats, cue the tanks, cue the planes and the other weapons which helped America win that noble war.

Invite the citizens of Massachusetts to donate to the cause. We are a generous people when we’re asked to help out. Let our checks fill the parade treasury. Let our bodies fill the streets and sidewalks of a grateful city. Let our cheers ring in the ears of such worthy men. And let the rest of the country know that while we enjoy our sports teams’ success, we truly cherish the young men who fought, who died, and who bought our freedom. Thank you Clarence Smoyer, and thank you to your American brothers in arms. We owe you an unpayable debt.

Cue the parade.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.

 

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