The New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen has a new monument, thanks to a 95-year-old man in Bristol who wanted to honor the elite unit he served with in World War II.
Those who know Harold “Bub” Sheffield say that when there’s something he wants done, he makes it happen.
Take last year, when he went to San Diego for a reunion of the Marine Raiders, the specialized unit he served with during World War II. Sheffield had just two tickets – not nearly enough for his family and friends.
“I got this woman on the phone," Sheffield recalls, "and I said, thank you for the tickets, but could I get some extra? I have some other friends that want to come? She said, well how many would you like? I said, ten would do it? She started to laugh."
But Sheffield had the last laugh. "I got a letter in the mail a few days later," he says, chuckling, "with ten tickets in it.”
This is how it’s always been with Sheffield, who, by the way, only retired as a real estate developer about a decade ago, in his mid-80s.
Last fall, Sheffield turned his attention to the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery.
"I had been down to the cemetery once or twice for various affairs," he says. "I noticed while there was a nice Marine monument, there was nothing in for the Raiders anyplace that I was aware of."
The story of the Marine Raiders is unlike any other in the war. They were forerunners of today’s special operations units, like the Navy Seals.
During World War II, they’d sneak behind Japanese lines in the South Pacific, launch quick strikes out of nowhere and then disappear as quickly as they came.
The 1943 film Gung Ho! dramatized a famous Marine Raiders strike on Makin Island – and the clandestine way Raiders carried out their missions.
The Raiders carried little with them – not even helmets or even much food – and sometimes stayed in the jungle for days.
And it was extremely dangerous work; the US Marine Raider Association & Foundation says 889 Raiders were killed in action before the military folded the four Raider battalions back into regular Marine combat divisions ahead of large-scale assaults.
Sheffield, for his part, received many citations for his service in the Solomon Islands, north of Papua New Guinea, though he plays down his own part in the war.
“There were so many of these fellows that were heroes," he says, "and I wasn’t one of them. They were on both sides of me, and it’s because of them I’m still alive, I guess.
"I was lucky," he adds. "I just didn’t get hit.”
After the war, Sheffield moved to New Hampshire, went to college, started his career, raised a family, and began giving talks about the Marine Raiders so that younger generations would know about them.
And then, last fall, he came to Veterans Cemetery director Mike Horn to propose a monument to the Raiders.
“He’s a doer," Horn says of Sheffield. "He comes up with an idea and he doesn’t expect somebody else to do it. “
Horn says Sheffield kept pushing the project forward, raising funds, lining up a local company to create the black monument stone. And after it was installed last December, he wanted a formal dedication as quickly as possible.
Horn says "he kept reminding us, he’s doing well, but he’s 95 years old and when are we going to do the monument ceremony.“
That ceremony took place on Saturday.
Dozens of veterans were on hand, along with youth groups and officials from the New Hampshire National Guard, as well as Gov. Maggie Hassan U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte and state Senator Jeannie Forrester.
When Sheffield arrived, they all crowded around to shake his hand and take pictures.
Sheffield said he was honored that so many people had come to pay tribute to the heroes with whom he’d served - and admitted it was kind of fun being the center of attention for the day.
“Oh listen," he says, laughing, "when I get kissed by the senator and everyone, you can’t beat that, it’s great – Kelly and Jeannie and the governor and everybody, it’s been a really remarkable thing for me."
Of the monument, Sheffield says, proudly, "it’s just one of those things you want to do before you die, you know? And I did."
When I ask what his next project is, Sheffield chuckles. “I’ll try to live to be 96," he says. "That’s my next project, I guess!”
If history is any indication, Bub Sheffield will likely make a success of that project too.