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Retired Army Pfc. Samuel Masessa, who served in the 40th U.S. Infantry Division in the Korean War, sang "God Bless America" during a Veterans Day ceremony held at Nevins Active Adult Community on Sunday. The community is home to around 50 veterans. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

Nevins home marks deaths from its veterans community

LONDONDERRY - For the residents of Nevins Active Adult Community, home of nearly 50 veterans, this Veterans Day was a bittersweet occasion, marked by a year of losses for the close-knit senior citizen community.

In an informal Veterans Day ceremony held in the complex clubhouse Sunday afternoon, residents paused to remember several friends who died this year.

Nevins resident Jeremiah Fraher died April 12 at the age of 78. Fraher had served in the Navy for 23 years, first as a chief engineer on the USS Hyman in Newport, R.I., and then as a supply officer on the USS Morton in San Diego. At the time of his retirement, he was working as comptroller at the Naval Education and Training Center in Newport, R.I.

Patrick Maguire, 77, died Oct. 31 after a lengthy illness. Maguire served in the Army. Geoffrey W.D. Harper, 68, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, died Nov. 7.

"He was a gentleman to the 10th degree," said Nevins resident Bill Graser, who organizes community ceremonies each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Another fallen friend, Gail Hamblett, never served in the military but played a vital role in documenting the community's collective military history. Hamblett, 67, who died July 20 of pancreatic cancer, assisted Graser in compiling her neighbors' stories for the book, "Story of the Nevins Veterans: World War II, Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War 1991, Afghanistan Campaign."

Graser, a retired Army sergeant first class, began compiling his neighbors' military stories in 2007, with firsthand accounts detailing the individual experiences of local men and women spanning World War II all the way through Afghanistan.

Hamblett, who once worked for Houghton Mifflin publishers, was happy to assist her friend in the extensive project.

"I called her my ghostwriter," said Graser. "She brought sunshine wherever she went. Right up until the end, she was there for all of us."

Graser's husband, Chuck, wiped away tears as he sat in the audience. The naval seaman, who served from 1962 to 1964 and earned the National Defense Service and Armed Forces Expeditionary medals during his time spent aboard the USS Fisk, is among the dozens of Nevins residents featured in Graser's book.

With six new veterans moving into the community this past year, Graser said he's already working on an updating version of the book, which will be published in two editions. The book will be dedicated in Hamblett's memory, he said.

aguilmet@newstote.com

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