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Local veterans to be honored on Patriots’ Day at start line

by | Apr 10, 2019 | Featured, News

At the start of the 123rd Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day, the Hopkinton Marathon Committee will honor three local veterans: Russell Phipps Sr., Betty Branagan and Frank Torento.

“On Patriots’ Day 2019, the Hopkinton Marathon Committee is pleased to be able to recognize these three veterans for their service in front of the large crowd at the start of the historic Boston Marathon,” said HMC chair Dorothy Ferriter-Wallace.

Recognizing veterans at the beginning of the race has become one of the highlights of Patriots’ Day for Ferriter-Wallace, who started the tradition.

“We’re honored to recognize our local veterans and to acknowledge the sacrifices they made to serve our country,” she said. “I enjoy watching the veterans stand on the starters’ platform each year as they are introduced. It’s especially moving to watch their pride during the singing of the national anthem.”

Phipps, 97, has lived in Hopkinton for nearly 70 years. The Framingham native served in what was first called the U.S. Army Air Corps, then changed to the Army Air Force, then the U.S. Air Force, from 1942-46. He was sent to various locations for training and retained in Colorado as an instructor, and later was sent on a one-month journey via solo Liberty ship to the Mariana Islands in the North Pacific, where he worked on airplanes and equipment, including B-17s and later B-29s.

“I’m no hero,” Phipps said. “I was one of the lucky ones.”

Phipps often thinks of his friends, including his brother-in-law, who didn’t make it home.

“We looked forward to the end of the war,” he said.

After Truman ended the war, Phipps remembers an often very story trip home via ship, then a memorable meeting with his wife, Doris, and their 1-year-old son, Russell Jr, at 11 p.m. on a cold February night. They drove their Ford Model A roadster home. He and Doris eventually had a daughter, Marcia, and were married 71 years before she passed away.

Framingham native Betty Branagan served in the U.S. Navy for four years, earning second class. She served in Memphis, then in Hawaii, as a storekeeper from 1951-55.

“We made sure the troops had what they needed,” she said.

Branagan met her husband, also a U.S. Navy storekeeper, while serving. They were working in Pearl Harbor while the monument to the Arizona was being built. After their discharge, the couple moved to the state of Washington, where she worked as a soil testing secretary in the Agronomy Department at Washington State, helping to put her husband through college. Betty moved to Hopkinton in May of 1982. She has a son who lives in Marlboro, a daughter in Maine, a stepdaughter in Milford and five grandchildren.

Frank Torento moved to Hopkinton from West Roxbury at age 16. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966-68 during the Vietnam War, including during the Tet Offensive. An Army personnel carrier while stateside, his duties changed in Vietnam. He secured the ammo dump and delivered ammo to the troops in the field. At the time of his honorable discharge, he was a specialist E-4. He and an Army buddy from New Hampshire bought a car in Seattle upon their discharge and drove across the country. He later had two daughters and worked for the Town of Hopkinton Highway Department for 14 years. He remains active in town, including many veteran-related activities, including the Ashland VFW Post 2331 and American Legion Post 77. He also is a member of the Elks and Woodville Rod and Gun Club, and was active in Hopkinton Little League, including helping to start the “Lassie League” softball program. He was part of a committee to put up the Vietnam Memorial on the Hopkinton Common. He helps make a meal for a large group of veterans in Hopkinton every Veterans Day.

Each of the veterans has enjoyed the Boston Marathon for years. Phipps said.

“When I was a kid, we’d hear the marathon and hike over Clark’s Hill toward [Route] 135,” he recalled. “There were maybe 25 runners. There was no fancy running gear then, just summer clothes and soft sneakers like we’d wear in gym class.”

He remembers watching the legendary Clarence DeMar, a seven-time winner.

Branagan and her family would walk all the way up Main Street from the lake to watch the start.

Before he retired, Torento always worked on Patriots’ Day, helping with setup and cleanup and other Highway Department duties.