Jaffrey resident Charles Turcotte stood awestruck in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There he was, a former apprentice ironworker, saluting the hallowed Arlington National Cemetery monument having just placed a wreath near its base — a job normally reserved for presidents and foreign dignitaries.
He recalled his father, a World War II veteran, and his grandfather, who served during World War I.
And all the friends he lost in Vietnam.
“It was a very surreal and touching experience,” said the Vietnam War veteran of the Dec. 20 ceremony.
“I’ve never felt so humbled,” he said.
Turcotte was asked to place the wreath back in October, when he was receiving a pin for 50 years of service in the ironworking industry through the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Turcotte said that he had been asked by the union secretary, and gladly accepted.
He said he was both “honored” and “very excited” to participate in the ceremony and visit the Washington, D.C. monument, which honors American service members who have died without their remains being identified.
Turcotte attended the ceremony as a representative of No Greater Love, a nonprofit, patriotic, humanitarian organization that honors the nation’s fallen and their grieving families, troops and veterans. The organization, according to Turcotte, is sponsored by the International Iron Workers.
Service to his country and ironworking have long been integral parts of Turcotte’s life. Turcotte began his path as an ironworker in 1964, when he became an ironworker's apprentice, after hearing about the opportunity from his cousin.
His career as an ironworker has taken Turcotte to seven different states, working for two of the nation’s largest contractors: Kiewit Corporation and Walsh Construction. Turcotte has worked on a number of large and well known projects, including the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, in Boston, Massachusetts.
“I really enjoyed it because just as you were getting sick of a job, you were on to the next one and got to go somewhere else,” said Turcotte.
Turcotte’s skills as an ironworker came in handy during the Vietnam War, as he enlisted as a member of the US Navy Seabees constructing bridges, bunkers, and runways from 1967 to 1969.
“Everyone was getting drafted at that time, so I decided to join so I could pick what I wanted to do,” said Turcotte.
Since he had not been to Washington D.C. since he was a child, Turcotte and his wife, Laurel McKenzie, spent a total of five days in town, soaking in the sights and history of the nation’s capital. While the trip itself was fun, Turcotte noted a sense of solemness as soon as they entered the Arlington National Cemetery.
“It was extremely moving,” he said.
Being able to be a part of the wreath-placing ceremony, according to Turcotte, is the biggest honor that he has ever been given in his life.
“Sharing the experience has been positive for sure,” said Turcotte. “I shared the story and pictures with one of my friends – he’s almost 90 and a World War II veteran – and he said I’m the first person he’s met that has placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It really is a great honor.”
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