Newly dedicated byway honors vets of Iraq, Afghanistan wars
By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff
For too long, the main route through town “resembled a battlefield,” but Saturday a freshly resurfaced Washington Mountain Road came full circle and was dedicated to returning veterans, particularly those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“I’m glad now that the closest it will come to reminding anyone of a battlefield is those signs recognizing the support that this community has for those who would put their lives on the line for us,” Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said.
Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders, Color Guard and Veterans of Foreign Wars members, emergency responders and residents turned out to see the road distinguished as the Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Scenic Byway. It is believed to be the first site honoring veterans of those wars.
Selectman Michael F. Case, a veteran of the Iraq War himself, explained why the decision was made.
“Not to honor those wars, but to honor those who, with blood, sweat and tears, fought in them,” Case said. “We are proud of all our veterans, and we want to be on the forefront of helping them reintegrate, go on with their lives and be proud of what they accomplished.”
Absent the draft, our military has a different look, Case observed. Volunteers, comprising less than 1 percent of the population, make up the entirety. People volunteer to receive training in a specific field, to escape the absence of employment opportunities, to secure a future education and to obtain citizenship.
“This road is an acknowledgment of appreciation for their service, which give the wonders of American life to the 99 percent [who don’t volunteer],” Case said.
Signs bearing the byway’s newly dedicated title will be posted at the Dalton and Becket town lines, Case added.
State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, who represents Washington among other towns, pointed out the national change in treatment of veterans locally and elsewhere, in contrast to when returning Vietnam veterans were often scorned in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
A friend of Pignatelli’s from Lenox was subject to such treatment in Seattle after completing three tours of duty.
“We’ve come a long way with honoring our veterans, and now here we are doing the same for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” Pignatelli said. “The Berkshires have paid a price. Throughout the county, we’ve had soldiers killed in [all] wars, and this sign will be a constant memory for me, and all the people who travel here, of the sacrifice people in the Berkshires have made.”
Pignatelli also acknowledged state Rep. Paul Mark’s work on behalf of the town, as Mark served Washington until Pignatelli acquired the town through redistricting.
The 9-mile section of road between Dalton and Becket was recently resurfaced using special funding from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation after 20 years of dire need. It is a vital corridor through Washington and the only alternative to Route 8 between October Mountain State Forest and Middlefield State Forest.