Charles “Gusher” Smith, a World War II sailor and long-time veteran’s advocate, marked his special day Nov. 11 — Veterans Day, which happened to be his 91st birthday. Joining Smith celebrating at Ticonderoga Elementary School were, from left, Gulf War veteran Nancy Paquette, Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Roy Harper and Vietnam War veteran Tom Provoncha.
Mark Gagnon celebrated Christmas in 1967 as a Marine fighting the Vietnam War. Holiday spirit may have been in short supply, but Gagnon had a treasured possession — a letter from the Ticonderoga Elementary School students in room 106.
“Our class was thinking about how lonely it must be around Christmas for you in Vietnam,” the Dec. 4, 1967, letter read. “So, we decided to write to you just to let you know we appreciate the brave things you are doing for us and our country.”
The letter was written by Brenda Denny’s sixth grade class and addressed “To a Soldier Serving in Vietnam.” Somehow the letter ended up with Cpl. Gagnon of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Division.
Gagnon, who lived in Cadyville, died in May. After his death family members found the letter — 44 years later — along with citations, medals, discharge papers and other items in Gagnon’s personal effects.
Gagnon’s bother, Steve, recently contacted John McDonald, Ti school superintendent, trying to reach members of that sixth grade class. He enclosed a copy of the letter.
“At the time it was written, support for troops serving in Southeast Asia was not always positive,” Steve Gagnon said. “There was a lot of anti-war sentiment, including protest movements, demonstrations and lack of respect for soldiers returning home.
“This letter was a little sign of support,” he added. “I do not think the class realized what impact it had and how much it meant to the soldier who received it. This was one of his most cherished possessions.
“It seems a bit ironic, a letter written in Ticonderoga, sent half way around the world, would be received by a soldier who lived his whole live less than 100 miles from the school where it was written,” Steve Gagnon said. “This is a wonderful thing the class did and I hope they and other classes continue to write letters and show support for our military. The way it was addressed, I guess it could have been delivered to any one of thousands of soldiers serving.”
Denny is retired and moved away from Ticonderoga years ago, but many of the students still live in the community. The letter, which has been posted on Facebook, has sparked interest among the classmates.
“I don’t remember writing it,” Holly (Hill) Bessett, a member of the class, said. “It’s really heart-warming to know that our class did something so simple that meant so much to another person. It’s really neat to have it come back 44 years later.”
Bessett went online to learn more about Mark Gagnon. She found his obituary. He grew up in Morrisonville and attended Saranac Central School. He was a member of American Legion Post 1619 in West Plattsburgh. He had no children.
“If we had known about this earlier I would have liked to meet him,” Bessett said. “I would love to know why he kept that letter.”
The letter was signed by students Freddy House, Pat Hebert, Ronnie Vanderwarker, Timmy Tucker, Daniel Cross, Walter Curtis, Julie Provoncha, Leslie Betts, Melissa Whitford, Susan Taylor, Stephanie Lane, Wendy Swinton, Debbie Charboneau, Marcella Buckman,Brenda McCarthy, Kim Rafferty, Marianne Henry, Joann Marie Porter, Sandy Parot, Sally DeRosia, Holly Jo Hill, Karen Sue Keith, Jeffrey Cook, Michael Rory, Greenough, Andrew Elethrop, Dale Wescott and James Herrick and teacher Brenda Denny.
“We realize that the protest marchers must make you feel badly, but we want you to know that we are proud of you and we know you are doing the best you can for our country,” the letter reads.
“We hope that you will answer our letter even though you must be busy because we would like to know more about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people so that we will have a better understanding of the war. We have a map and if you will tell is where you are we’ll try to find your location on it. Also, could you send us the names and addresses of some of your friends who might like some mail?
“We will write again,” the letter concludes. “May God bless you and have a Merry Christmas.”
The students never got as reply, that they remember.
McDonald doesn’t know why Mark Gagnon saved the letter, but it obviously had meaning for him.
“It goes to show that you never know what an act of kindness may mean to someone else,” McDonald said. “This letter was important to him.”
Bessett feels good to know the letter reached a soldier and had meaning.
“I don’t even remember it, but it feels good to think we helped someone,” she said. “It took 44 years, but we know our good deed helped him.”