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100-year-old Manchester veteran named honorary Celtics captain

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 10. 2017 10:44PM
Manchester veteran Aurel Stuart meets with Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart prior to Friday night's game at TD Garden in Boston. Stuart, 100, was honored as part of the Celtics' "Heroes Among Us" program. (Courtesy/Matt Regan/Regan Communications)

As the Boston Celtics took to the parquet floor Friday night, 18,000 fans stood and cheered for a hero in uniform.

That hero was 100-year-old Aurel Stuart of Manchester, a World War II veteran wearing the same dress uniform he wore some 60 years ago. The Celtics named Stuart their honorary captain for a game that was to be broadcast to military bases across the world.

“I’m going to take a few shots, a three-pointer,” he said in a Thursday interview before the game.

Stuart was chosen as the Celtics’ “Hero Among Us” on a night when season ticket holders and corporate sponsors donate their seats to service members and their families at an event called “Seats for Soldiers.”

As the “Hero Among Us,” Stuart stood at center court with Celtics players a quarter of his age and took part in ceremonial putting of the ball into play before the actual tipoff.

Prior to halftime, Stuart was interviewed before the crowd regarding his story of more than 25 years of military service, sharing with the fans, the players, and those serving overseas.

Stuart vowed to keep it brief.

“A good speech is a short speech,” he said.

Stuart was caught on video getting plenty of face time at the game, which was televised on NBC Sports Boston.

His honor was part of a Veterans Day eve set of ceremonies at the TD Bank Garden that included a military presentation of the colors and the national anthem from the Massachusetts Army Guard’s Voices of Freedom singing band.

The fans gave Stuart and the other veterans and service members a standing ovation.

Stuart said it was an honor he didn’t deserve.

“I just did my job,” said Stuart, a well-known Manchester photographer who shot photos for the Union Leader and Sunday News in the 1940s. “My dad always told me to do the best you can. We were just doing our job. That’s all.”

Aurel Stuart, 100, of Manchester, is a World War II veteran. He was honored at Friday's Celtics game as its chosen hero for Veterans Day. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

Stuart is one of the estimated 558,000 living World War II veterans, but it was a military career he started in 1935 when, as high school student, he joined the New Hampshire National Guard. He retired as lieutenant colonel with the U.S. National Guard Army Reserves in 1971.

He served as lead bombardier in World War II, flying 31 bombing missions, three of which were on June 6, 1944 over Normandy — D-Day. While most squadrons flew far less, Stuart’s group was called on more because they were the most accurate at the time. 

He spoke of one of those D-Day missions. His job was to take out a bridge in the French village of Pontaubault to keep the Germans from advancing. It required a low flyover of about 3,000 feet, which meant he only had one real shot to hit the target with a 2,000-pound bomb. 

The generals and colonels were screaming through the headphones in his ears to fly over the bridge and drop the bomb. He pulled the headphones out of his ears and defied their orders, demanding the pilot fly over the length of the bridge to give him extra shots at the target.

He thought he was going to be demoted, but instead the military instituted new rules that only the pilot could be in the ear of a bombardier. 

“Just doing my job,” he said.

Stuart has been a Celtics fan since the team “was in its infancy,” watching games on a black-and-white television with his two sons John and Aurel Jr. and his daughter Maureen. John thought it would be nice to take his dad to a Celtics game for his 100th birthday, which he celebrated on Halloween. John Stuart reached out to the Celtics and asked if there was a way they could show him on the Jumbotron.

The Celtics replied and said not only would they put him on the Jumbotron, but they would make his father a star at the Seats for Soldiers game.

“When they told me what they were going to do, I had tears streaming down my face,” John said.

Aurel was at the game with John, as well as six other family members and friends. Aurel said he doesn’t know too many of the players’ names today, but there is one player he would really like to meet — Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn, who played for the Celtics from 1956 to 1965 and coached the team from 1969 to 1978. Heinsohn now is one of the play-by-play broadcasters for NBC Sports Boston, which broadcasts the Celtics games.

Near the end of the first quarter, the TV broadcast showed a clip of Stuart in his seat.

“Look at that, there’s a man’s man,” Heinsohn said of Stuart.

Stuart also enjoyed the game from an enviable seat right behind the Celtics basket for the entire first half.

It was an important game as the Celtics were going for their 11th straight win, a point Aurel Stuart was going to emphasize with the players he shared the court with.

“I’m going to tell them ‘you better win or I’m not coming back,’” he said.

NH People Holiday or vacation Celtics/NBA General News Manchester Veterans

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