Reading, MA — Reading celebrated Veterans Day with two different, though connected, ceremonies at Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) on Friday. The first unveiled a new monument honoring those who served in the conflict in Vietnam, and the second was a ceremony naming the RMHS track for one of those men, former teacher, and coach Harold Croft.
The first ceremony took the opportunity to pause and commemorate those who served in the Vietnam conflict by unveiling a new monument that recognizes the sacrifice of all who served in Vietnam, specifically memorializing the seven Reading residents whose lives were lost in that conflict. The new memorial is a dignified black stone marker located by the RMHS main entrance with the roll call of those seven men listed along with their graduation year and the date on which they were killed in action. The ceremony was highlighted by comments from RMHS Assistant Principal Jessica Theriault and retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond, a Reading native.
Theriault, a veteran with many family members who also served, reflected on the experiences of her relatives who served in Vietnam. “I have seen [them] flinch and shake when a car backfires or when loud pops occur on the Fourth of July – their eyes filled with terror,” Theriault shared. “The flashbacks they have are real and haunting. They served to honor our country,” she continued.
Theriault concluded her remarks by noting that she will pass the monument every day she goes to work. “I will look at this memorial and say thank you and hope they can hear me,” Theriault said.
Hammond began his comments with a quote, “Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but shameful is the nation that has them and fails to recognize and honor them. We’re here today to make sure that does not happen.”
Hammond continued, “We cannot undo the pain caused by the thoughtless and despicable behavior exhibited towards our Vietnam veterans when they returned home, but we can commit to never doing that again. They simply answered the nation’s call to duty just as Americans have done since Joshua Eaton did so during the American Revolution, and they have earned our eternal gratitude.”
Hammond then introduced Croft, who served as a marine in Vietnam and was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for valor in combat. Croft was a long-time RMHS English teacher and boys’ track coach. Croft, a Reading resident, also served a term on the School Committee. Croft spoke passionately about the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which afflicts so many of those who served in combat. He said regarding personal challenges he faced with “what I see in the back screen of my mind.” Croft continued to implore people to help those who suffer from the condition. “Our military cannot be left alone to deal with PTSD,” Croft warned. “We need to deal with PTSD right here at home. We face it whether we know it or not.”
After handing out fifty-year Vietnam commemoration pins to the Vietnam veterans who were present, members of the families of three of the memorialized veterans listed on the monument shared about their loved ones. “I remember the pain, I remember the sadness, I remember the tears, the forever tears, I remember the anger, but . . . I also remember the pride, and I remember the love,” stated Susan Putney, sister of Edward Putney, RMHS class of 1964, who was killed in action on May 10, 1969.
After a roll call with memorial roses placed on the monument, a wreath was laid, and “America, the Beautiful” was played by members of the RMHS band, followed by TAPS, ending the ceremony.
The assembled crowd then moved to the track, where the naming ceremony honoring Croft was held. During his tenure as coach, the boys track team had 252 consecutive victories, securing twenty-nine straight state titles. Croft is in the Massachusetts Track Hall of Fame and was named the National Coach of the Year in 1996. He also was named the Disney-McDonalds Coach of the Year in the same year. Croft is a 1999 inductee into the RMHS Hall of Fame and was the Boston Globe-Herald Coach of the Year six times.
School Committee chair Chuck Robinson took a moment to describe the process that led the School Committee’s vote to honor Croft. He then reflected on Croft’s time on the Reading School Committee, “He joined the School Committee for the right reasons,” Robinson observed. “His only desire was to make decisions that positively impacted students’ lives and educational experiences.”
Theriault also spoke, adding, “We have heard how Mr. Croft . . . changed the trajectory of students’ futures. They will forever be reminded about Mr. Croft and his dedication to our community.”
RMHS Cross Country coach and former student-athlete Mike Connelly shared, “Mr. Croft’s focus on team over the individual made every athlete realize that to run track at Reading meant you were part of something much larger than yourself.” Former assistant track coach Peter Rittenberg added that the naming of the track is “a fitting tribute to a man’s enduring passion and unflinching advocacy for the sport of track and field and its young athletes.”
Former assistant track coach and RMHS English Teacher Peter Rittenberg added that the naming of the track is “a fitting tribute to a man’s enduring passion and unflinching advocacy for the sport of track and field and its young athletes.”
Croft thanked his family and the many students and athletes he mentored over the years. “Track and Field is a two-way street. If you have it in your heart, you will thrive in it,” Croft explained. “Thinking, preparing, and competing are the package.”