Longtime firefighter, Korean War veteran presented with Londonderry's Boston Post CaneBy CHRIS GAROFOLO
Union Leader Correspondent March 12. 2018 2:34PM
LONDONDERRY — Lifelong Londonderry resident Forrest H. Pratt was presented with the town’s modernized version of the Boston Post Cane, receiving the honor for his years of service to the community and to his country during the Korean War.
Pratt and about a dozen of his family members were in attendance last week for a special ceremony before the Town Council meeting to formally hand over the cane, a longtime New England tradition that dates back more than a century.
Town Manager Kevin Smith and Fire Chief Darren O’Brien presented the coveted walking stick to Pratt.
“He has been an upstanding and contributing member of our great community for so many years,” Smith said. “This distinction really culminates what has been a storied life in the town of Londonderry.”
A humbled Pratt, adorned in a dark sport coat and navy blue tie featuring a silver airplane emblem, said very little during the ceremony. A proclamation from Gov. Chris Sununu was read by state Rep. Al Baldasaro, and Smith offered a special certificate for Pratt as well.
“I really appreciate it,” Pratt told the crowd after he was presented the cane.
“You going to use it now?” one of his family members quipped, prompting a round of applause.
The Boston Post Cane dates back to 1909, as an advertising gimmick created by newspaper publisher Edwin A. Grozier. He sent about 700 gold-capped canes across New England to go to the oldest male citizen in town, compliments of the Boston Post newspaper. Awarding of the cane was opened to women in 1930.
Upon the death of the cane’s owner, it gets passed down to the next oldest citizen, but the cane has also — for many communities — become a recognition of a resident’s commitment to public service.
There are approximately 500 towns in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island still actively awarding the cane.
Londonderry’s original cane went missing for about 40 years. It is now housed behind glass in the town library. A replica was crafted by a local woodworker and painted black.
Ann Chiampa, curator of the Londonderry Historical Society, said Pratt is a natural choice for the honor given his decades of service to the town.
Born on Mammoth Road in 1929, Pratt has lived in Londonderry for all 89 of his years, expect for between 1950-1954 when he was in the Air Force during the Korean War.
As a boy, he would get up early to stoke the wood stove at School No.7 on Goff’s Falls Road and later on at the Morrison Junior High School. His parents owned a garage, where he learned to clean car parts, change tires and pump gas.
“He learned early on how to take a car apart and put it back together, a skill that still serves him to this day,” Chiampa said. “When he was old enough, he joined the Boy Scouts and was certified as a Star Scout and received the Orchid Award for his War Bond sales during World War II.”
As a teenager, he volunteered to help put out forest fires in town, which is now considered the beginning of the volunteer department. He was involved in building the original fire station in North Londonderry because they needed a place to house their new Ford pumper.
He retired from the volunteer department in 1976, with more than 30 years of service.
O’Brien cited Pratt’s decades of service with the volunteer fire department.
“Individuals like Mr. Pratt helped pave the way of who we have become today. I have the utmost respect for the individuals that served this community in the years prior to my service,” he said. “The fire service is a tradition of people wanting to help others in their time of need.”
As a sophomore at Manchester High School Central, Pratt joined the Civil Air Patrol and took flying lessons at Boyer Field in Nashua during World War II.
“In 1950, he joined the Air Force. During the Korean War, serving as a staff sergeant in charge of the Air Force ALERT ground crew at Keflavik Airport, Iceland, S/Sgt. Pratt showed himself to be a man of great courage, a hero, when an approaching plane crashed, killing the pilot and engineer,” O’Brien said.
For more than a half century, he was married to fellow Londonderry native Marian J. Hall, whom he met at Greenwood’s Store just after being discharged from the Air Force in 1954. He referred to the love of his life as “a real knockout,” marrying her just six months after meeting her, and having three children: Brenda, David, and Belinda.
Chiampa said Pratt now meets daily at a local Dunkin’ Donuts and spends time with his five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.