SHIRLEY — When the occasion arose, Norman Albert always spoke with pride of his service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He wrote and published two books about it: “From a Boot to a China Marine” and “Respect and Recognition.”
The World War II veteran died at his home Tuesday at the age of 96. Shortly before his death, he resigned from his posts in the town’s veteran’s community and reflected on his accomplishments with a reporter.
Looking back now, Albert says he can see how his time in the marines helped shape the course of his later life, particularly in terms of community service.
Albert served for six years on the Shirley Finance Committee and was a town selectman from 1967 to 1973. Over the last couple decades or so, his focus has been the War Memorial Building. As a veteran member of the WMB Board of Trustees he was chairman for at least 10 years, he said.
Until now. At 96-years-old, Albert has stepped down from that post, due to ill health. He has also resigned from the Veterans Events Committee.
Albert announced the resignations to spotlight the vacancies on those two boards, he said, noting that the open Trustees seat — an elected position — is for a veteran. The five-member board consists of three veterans and two non-veterans.
The Veterans Events Committee, which Albert had served on since it was formed, needs seven members to fulfill its compliment and will now be one short.
“I hope someone steps up” he said.
A lifelong town resident, Albert still lives in the house he built with his father in 1953, in the same neighborhood where he grew up. He recalls walking past the then-vacant lot they built it on.
“I remember it had five old apple trees on it,” he said.
He shared the home with his wife, Jan, who died five and a half years ago. They were married for 65 years and had three children.
During a recent interview, one of Albert’s three daughters — Sandra Pereria — who’s been helping him out at home, lent a hand gathering material for this story: photos, dates, names. She jotted down some of the WMB improvements and upgrades he was responsible for during his tenure as a WMB trustee.
The list includes a new sign in front of the building, bathroom upgrades, replacing cement floors with tile; new floor covering downstairs, repairs and upgrades at the building’s main entrance, replacing wood doors with metal ones and an enlarged and renovated kitchen, a priority for Albert, who upped the effort when he came on board, he said, tapping left-over funds from a past project as seed money.
Another priority was the creation and installation of plaques honoring Shirley’s war heroes on a wall in the WMB lobby. The installation was dedicated in November, 2017.
When the WMB was dedicated in 1927, its stated purpose was “honoring those heroes from Shirley who gave their lives in all wars” but their names were not there, nor were they in the building. Albert made it a mission to change that.
With renovations in progress and having identified the lobby as the best place for a wall of honor, the trustees launched a project to that end and began a fundraising campaign. But it was Albert’s serendipitous encounter with Tony Emerson, then president of IC Credit Union, that brought it together.
After having breakfast one morning at a Lunenburg restaurant, Albert went to pay the bill but was told it was “taken care of,” he said. His benefactor was Emerson.
A self-described “three time veteran” whose company supported veterans projects and offered an array of products to customers who are veterans, Emerson said he’d noticed Albert’s Marine Veterans’ cap and after learning he was from Shirley, asked him if veterans there needed anything his firm could help with.
“I told him about the project I was working on,” Albert said.
Emerson took it up with his project team and they supported the idea. One of them, Monica Turner, worked in IC’s Ayer branch. She designed the plaques. Another team member, Todd DuVerger, installed the six wood-framed, glass encased plaques, at the same time upgrading the old wall for its new use.
When the plaques were dedicated — one blank, five bearing the names of Shirley’s war heroes who died serving their country — American Legion Chaplain Charles Church, invited visitors to come again, to share experiences or “ponder” alone.
“Use this memorial as a place to heal your … soul,” he said.
Asked about the blank plaque, Albert explained it was reserved for future losses that hopefully, would never come. “God forbid … another name.” he said.
The building he’s championed for so long is important to him, and he’d like that empty seat filled.
The Trustees, acting jointly with the Select Board, can appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the town election in May, he said. Interested volunteers may contact WMB Trustee Matt Callahan or another board member he said. They can also call the town administrator.
It’s basically the same process for the Veterans Events Committee, now one member short of its full complement of seven members. The committee was formed primarily to continue funding two annual events the Legion historically organized but couldn’t manage any more: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Town Meeting sets aside a small nest egg — about $800 annually — to fund both events.
The War Memorial Building is home to American Legion, Post 183, its sole occupant. The World War I era, town-owned building housed a local USO social center during World War II. In later years the upstairs function hall that once hosted big-band-style dances was rented out for special occasions and used for town events. It still is.
The recent Veterans Day event, for example, with Albert as master of ceremonies and keynote speaker. He served in the same capacity on Memorial Day and was Grand Marshall at the 2022 Memorial Day parade.
Tasked with “Care and custody” of the building, per Mass General law, the Trustees and past town officials were not always in accord on how to accomplish that mission or who should pay for it. But things have run more smoothly in recent years, with many of the big-ticket items on the trustees’ to-do list — heating system, insulation, window work, the kitchen — are done, thanks in part to Albert’s tenacious advocacy.
Other items on the long-term list, such as installing an elevator in the building, await. But Albert said he won’t be part of that effort. It will be up to others now, he said.