By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – The graves of over a thousand veterans sit in silence in Marlborough’s cemeteries. Matthew Sargent, 34 — a Navy reservist who grew up in the city – is on a mission to memorialize the lives of these brave souls. He is researching their biographies, locating their photos and medals, and creating laminated bio tags, which he places in grave marker flags at each site.
So far, Sargent has marked over 200 graves. Acknowledging the over 340 Marlborough men and women who died or were killed while in service, he is also developing an honor roll.
Marlborough’s deceased veterans hail from the French and Indian War (1750s) through current times. They include women from the Army Corp of Engineers, a Red Cross nurse from WWI, and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from WWII.
Sargent has always had an interest in history. A 2005 graduate of Hudson Catholic and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, he spent nine years sailing with the Merchant Marines and has been a reservist since 2009. He has travelled to 32 countries, and lived in Italy, Singapore and Bahrain. Back in his hometown of Marlborough since 2018, Sargent now works in HVAC for Cushman Wakefield.
Along the way, he has participated in his family’s research into their deep American roots. On his father’s side, he is descended from five passengers on the Mayflower. His mother and father are members of the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution, respectively.
When Sargent returned to the states two years ago, he attended a Memorial Day celebration in Worcester.
“I saw graves marked with little tags. I thought about my great uncle, and about my grandfather, who died when I was young. They were both veterans and I knew what medals they had. I decided to make tags for their graves,” he said.
“Someone posted a photo of the tags on Facebook. There was a comment asking whether the town could make one for their relative. I said this isn’t a city thing. I can help you make one if you like,” he added.
Using a map of veterans’ graves created in 2013 by Eagle Scout Eric Kanavos and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) civil engineering project in 1934, along with military records, Sargent has been able to locate many veterans’ graves in Marlborough.
Sargent uses Ancestry.com, Fold3.com (a similar website for military history), military records, and a lot of legwork. He has been in touch with the Marlborough’s veteran officer and the Massachusetts Military Archives.
He has received generous donations from the Veterans Council in Marlborough and Marlborough Historical Society, of which he is now a member and trustee.
Marlborough’s current director of veterans’ services, Michael Hennessy said, “It’s very meaningful because it tells the story of the veterans’ life that many would otherwise not have known if it wasn’t for Matt’s work.”
Sargent has created bio tags for the three Goodnow brothers, for whom the town has named their new elementary school.
“These three brothers were killed during the Civil War. They are buried about 10 feet from the three Rice brothers, who were also killed during that war,” Sargent said. “It’s amazing that they are buried near each other.”
What began with Sargent’s grandfather, Harold Sargent, who was stationed on the USS Mission Bay, a jeep carrier in the Atlantic, and his great uncle, Guy Sargent, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought in North Africa and Sicily, has evolved into a passion for Sargent.
“It’s important to highlight the service of veterans, especially the ones who were killed… I would really appreciate it if relatives of veterans buried in Marlborough would reach out to me to help with the bio tags and honor roll. It would help my search for information,” Sargent said.
Visit the Marlborough’s Maplewood and Rockland Cemeteries to view Sargent’s grave marker flags. To contact him, email Mattysargent@gmail.com.
Photos/Jane Keller Gordon