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A bridge called Citizens

Name for new span over the Whetstone leaves some unhappy

BRATTLEBORO—After passionate discourse between residents and officials, the Selectboard voted 3-2 in favor of naming the new bridge linking Western Avenue to Guilford Street and Living Memorial Park, Citizens Bridge.

Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray suggested Citizens Bridge at the previous board meeting as a way to honor numerous town residents into the future. He says names will be added to a plaque on the bridge as a sign of respect.

Selectboard Clerk Jesse Corum, who later voted against the name, expressed concern.

He felt the Selectboard had asked the public to submit names and “the board didn’t say we’d come up with our own.” Corum also asked questions about who would set the criteria for adding names. Would the criteria change with new Selectboards, he asked, and what kind of process would the Selectboard find itself in five or 10 years from now?

“I’m really stumped by this one,” Selectboard Vice-Chair Dora Bouboulis, who agreed with Corum’s concerns regarding criteria.

“I wish Brattleboro would care for its veterans as much as they care for Brattleboro,” said Richard Hodgdon, former Commandant of Marine Corps League Detachment 798 in Brattleboro.

Hodge and fellow veterans urged the board to name the bridge after Army Capt. Frederick J. (Joseph) Giroux, a Brattleboro resident who died in a North Korean POW camp in 1951. He was captured after his infantry unit was overrun by Chinese troops during the early months of the Korean Conflict.

Giroux also served as an infantry officer in World War II, where he received numerous medals including a Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross – second only to the Medal of Honor for valor in combat — personally awarded by Gen. George S. Patton.

Two residents also spoke in favor of naming the bridge after former Recreation & Parks Director Frank Dearborn who was instrumental in the creation of Living Memorial Park.

The discussion devolved at times exposing the bone of participants’ raw conviction for their chosen honorees. 

Resident Mark Gouger, who spearheaded the letter writing campaign to the Brattleboro Reformer in favor of Capt. Giroux, addressed the Selectboard holding a petition with “200 signatures” showing support.

He said the group felt strongly that Capt. Giroux’s heroism merited the new bridge receive his name.

Gouger then referred to a previous comment by the Selectboard that Citizens Bridge would be a good place to add the names of fallen firefighters and police officers. This comment had angered many uniformed officers, he said.

“Waiting for someone to die is morbid,” said Gouger.

Selectboard member Daryl Pillsbury, the originator of that comment, leaned forward in his chair and pointed at Gouger, saying the comment was “If someone died.”

“I’m not sitting there waiting. That’s ridiculous,” said Pillsbury.

Veteran and resident Sam Haskins said, “I think Citizens Bridge is a cop-out for the board.”

Charlie Larosa, resident, who supported the bridge being named after Dearborn said, “All [the suggested names] deserving of some kind of lasting memorial.”

But Larosa urged the Selectboard to consider the “appropriateness” of the site. He felt “Dearborn” was appropriate for the bridge because it is the “gateway to Memorial Park” which he was instrumental in creating.

“This is a very difficult decision for everybody. Sometimes you don’t make friends,” said DeGray.

After the vote, a few of the veterans saluted the board as they left.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #71 (Wednesday, October 13, 2010).

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