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Daily Hampshire Gazette
May 22, 2001

Veterans' Cemetery Dedicated

Agawam AP


Edward Squazza, center, touches the dedication plaque for the first state-owned veterans' cemetery on land he donated in Agawam. Others from left are Linda Melconian, John McDermott, Anthony Principi, Sen. John Kerry, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, U.S. Rep. Daniel Keenan, and Thomas Kelley. AP photo

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 -- (AGAWAM AP) - Edward Squazza beamed as Massachusetts formally dedicated its first state-run cemetery for veterans Monday on his former potato field.

``It's terrific,'' said Squazza, 86, as he looked over the grassy field, dotted with bright uniforms and flags from dozens of color guards.

The elderly farmer, who had been exempted from military service although his brother served, donated 61 acres for the cemetery. He said he ``just wanted to do something for the veterans.''

More than 1,000 people gathered on the lawn outside the little chapel for the dedication ceremonies marked by prayers and military salutes.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., spoke of the bonds formed in combat. ``We're here to keep faith with a friend,'' he said. ``We will leave no veteran behind.''

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, called the new cemetery a ``shrine to the service and sacrifice of Massachusetts' veterans.''

But when Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen called for a salute to Squazza, the crowd, including Massachusetts Veterans Affairs Commissioner Thomas Kelley and his predecessor Thomas Hudner, both Medal of Honor winners, gave a sustained standing ovation to the farmer, who made it possible.

``This was Edward Squazza's way of thanking the veterans, and now we are honored to thank him,'' Kelley said.

The ceremony opened with a cannon volley by a group of Civil War re-enactors, and included a 21-gun salute by a military color guard and flyovers from A-10s and a massive C5-A stationed at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

Irish tenor John McDermott sang ``Amazing Grace'' and the ``Battle Hymn of the Republic.''

The $7.2 million cemetery, financed by the federal government, will accommodate about 50,000 burials.

So far, about 95 burials have been scheduled through July, said Robert McKean, director of veterans cemeteries for the state Department of Veterans Services. The first is to be held Wednesday morning.

``It's great,'' said Irene Hutchinson of Springfield, who came with her husband of 58 years, Joseph Hutchinson, 82, a Navy veteran of World War II. ``It's about time the veterans are appreciated. They gave a lot of their life.''

Dan Flechsig, veterans agent for the small town of Montgomery, said until now the only veterans cemetery in the state had been on Cape Cod and it was very important to veterans in western Massachusetts to have a cemetery nearby.

His small town, with 550 registered voters and a total population of 820 people, has more than 200 veterans, Flechsig said.

In response to a shortage of burial space for veterans, the federal government has provided money for dozens of new cemeteries around the country.

A second state-run cemetery is scheduled to open next year in Winchendon. Only Massachusetts veterans and their wives can be buried in the two state-run cemeteries.

A federal veterans' cemetery in Bourne is open to all U.S. military veterans.

There are nearly 100,000 veterans in the four western Massachusetts counties, and about 430,000 others across the state.