By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough – Army veteran Gerard W. Bourque seems to have been born to serve his fellow military peers. He was born May 30, back when Memorial Day was always observed on that date.
“I didn’t have to go to school on my birthday,” he noted.
Fittingly, he has served as chair of the Memorial Day parade and ceremonies in Northborough since 2004. Bourque accepted the responsibility when he was commander of the American Legion Vincent F. Picard Post 234 of which he’s a life member. He has held other offices at the post including vice commander, adjunct, finance officer and chaplain.
For the past 10 years he’s been the post service officer. As of this fall, he accepted the position of veterans’ agent for the towns of West Boylston, Lancaster and Sterling. In each role, he helps veterans and their families by providing information, advice and assistance to procure benefits to which they are or may be entitled. He understands firsthand the value of veterans’ benefits.
“I used the G.I. Bill to go to Boston University for a year and to buy my house in Northborough,” he shared. “A lot of veterans don’t know what’s available to them.”
He and his wife Dawn moved to Northborough in 1958.
While growing up in Waltham, Bourque got his first glimpse of veterans’ experiences from foreign wars. His sixth-grade class visited the Murphy Veterans Hospital, which was located in Waltham at the time.
“We walked down the corridors and saw guys all bandaged up, recovering from wounds they got in Europe and Asia,” he relayed.
In his high school yearbook he wrote about his intention to join the Army after graduating in 1951.
“After all, I had five brothers who had served in the U.S. Army from 1941 through the end of World War II (WWII),” he noted. “Instead of being drafted for two years, I enlisted for three, hoping to have some choice of career in the Army.”
Bourque entered the Army at Fort Devens and was assigned 16 weeks of heavy weapons infantry at Fort Dix, N.J. Next, he went to Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis, Indiana, where he attended school and worked in the personnel office.
During his basic training, the Korean War ceasefire was signed in July 1953. Four months later, he was deployed to Munsan Ni, Korea. The mission was to support the peacekeeping units of the United Nations forces. He was later transferred to Seoul. Upon returning stateside, his final assignment was in Fort Banks in Winthrop.
As chair of the WWII and Korean War Memorial Committee, Bourque believes the Picard Post’s most valuable contribution is remembering Northborough residents who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It was brought to the post’s attention that several casualties weren’t recognized by name at the town’s WWII – Korean War – Vietnam War Memorial.
“If the town wasn’t going to do it, then we would,” Bourque said.
After the American Legion donated the amount needed to purchase a plaque for Pfc. Francis McShane, who was killed in Cisterna, Italy, Bourque attended a televised selectmen’s meeting. He read the names of the other Northborough casualties. Soon afterward, he received donations from business owner Bill Ellsworth and retired Lt. Col. Irving T. Shanley.
Bourque got the full amount still needed for plaques from the Northborough Patrollers Association.
“I was amazed that they wrote out a check,” he said.
Plaques were purchased at Crown Trophy with no markup.
In 2013, the Picard Post named Bourque the Legionnaire of the Year. Appropriately, the honor was formally announced on Memorial Day.