At 7:26 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 6, 1921, a train traveling from Hoboken, N.J., arrived at Union Station on Granite Street in east Manchester. Two heavy steel caskets were unloaded from the cars, each bearing the remains of a young soldier who had died in battle in France during the recent World War. Waiting for the caskets was a delegation of local war veterans, members of The American Legion.
The fallen men were Private Henry John Sweeney and Corporal Charles Andrew Vaughan. Private Sweeney was killed in Soissons on Feb. 18, 1918. He was the first member of the armed services from Manchester to lose his life in the war. Vaughan perished from the wounds he suffered in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918. It was fortunate for their families that their bodies had been buried in marked graves, which allowed for their remains to be identified and returned home.
On that sad August morning in 1921, Corporal Vaughan’s casket was turned over to his family, while Sweeney’s was transported to the Henry J. Sweeney Post #2 American Legion headquarters on Concord Street. His casket was positioned on a mahogany bier in the Ladies Auxiliary Room. As the Manchester Leader and Evening Union newspaper reported, “the room had been beautifully decorated with American flags and bunting by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. A large lighted candle and a stand of rifles have been placed at the head and foot of the casket.” Hundreds of people came during the day to pay their solemn respects, and an honor guard stood by the casket overnight.
On Sunday, Aug. 7, 1921 Private Sweeney and Corporal Vaughan were carried to their final resting places. The American Legion band led the large funeral cortege, followed by a caisson pulled by six horses, which carried the caskets. As the newspaper reported, “Religious, civic, fraternal, social, military, and athletic organizations were represented in the procession all paying a mark of love and respect, of homage and admiration, for two young men who gave their all in the cause of freedom and justice.”
After ceremonies at the Sweeney Post and at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cathedral the procession moved slowly through the downtown, over the Granite Street Bridge, and through the west side until it reached St. Joseph Cemetery on Donald Street. Father J. S. Buckley, Chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, and pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral, conducted the committal ceremonies with full military honors at the Sweeney and Vaughan family plots.
Henry J. Sweeney was born and grew up in the ‘Squog neighborhood near Granite Square on the west side of Manchester. His father Jeremiah was an Irish immigrant who worked in the local textile mills. His mother Catherine O’Dowd Sweeney was of Irish heritage, but had been born in London, England. Catherine died from an infection in 1905, a few weeks after giving birth to the couple’s ninth child. In July 1917, shortly before setting off for war, Henry married his 17-year-old sweetheart Winifred Mildred Grant. She lost Henry seven months later, when he was only 20 years old.
Private Henry J. Sweeney had been a parishioner of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, and had been educated in the parish school. The parish is inviting the public to join in the centennial commemoration of his death on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. The program will begin with a special Mass at 9:30 a.m., followed by the blessing of the Veterans Memorial Window. This colorful stained-glass window was acquired from a closed church in Illinois, and recently restored and installed on a new wall in the church. It depicts Christ standing above a World War II-era soldier, airman, and sailor. This ceremony will be followed by a community brunch in the parish hall, and the opening of the exhibition, “A Parish Goes to War: Saint Raphael in the First World War.”
St. Raphael Church is located at 103 Walker St., across 4th Street from Sweeney Park on South Main Street. The park features a bronze bust of Private Henry J. Sweeney created by local sculptor Lucien H. Gosselin. The monument was dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1931.
Next week: Other parks and squares in Manchester dedicated to the memory of WWI servicemen.