Putnam pg 5 7-11-19

By Ronald P. Coderre
The headline of the Sept. 29, 1943, edition of the Windham County Observer proclaimed – Putnam Soldier Is Dead In South Pacific War Zone.  A sub-headline read, Last Letter From Son Received On Same Day Notice Of His Death Arrived.
On Sept. 16, 1943, Cpl. George R. Viens wrote home, “Dear Mother and Father.”  In his final letter he writes about receiving a package of cookies and candy from home and that he’s happy to also receive a fountain pen.  He talks about receiving a letter from Aunt Dell and of sending more money home, as he has no need for it where he is.  His letter also states of “more planes coming direct from the States.”
Viens also wrote, “Hope that Dad has been able to find me a 45 automatic.  That is the only thing that I need.” 
On that same day his mother, Mrs. Blanche Viens received a telegram from Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Va., informing her that her son had been fatally wounded in action in a raid by the Japanese in the New Georgia area of the South Pacific.
This information, along with all of Cpl. Viens’ letters to his parents, newspaper clippings with stories of his demise, as well as his Putnam High School yearbook and other memorabilia, were unveiled in a small suitcase preserved by Mrs. Viens until the date of her death, Dec. 21, 1972.
Born in Putnam on March 11, 1922, George Viens grew up much the same as all the young men of his era.  Young George Viens attended and graduated from St. Mary’s Parochial School in 1936.  He was an avid Boy Scout of Troop 23, which was sponsored by St. Mary’s Parish, earning Star rank in 1934- and Five-Year Veteran Scout in 1939. 
Viens graduated from Putnam High School in 1940.  His yearbook profile describes Viens as, “one of the class’s quiet boys, although active in different clubs.  His hobbies are skiing, hunting, fishing and swimming.  Although he has no definite plans for the future, he speaks of being an undertaker.”
His high school nicknames were “Porky” or “Chicken,” most likely because his father, Delard, raised chickens and turkeys at the family homestead.
Following his high school graduation, he worked for General Phonograph and later at Western Electric in Mystic.  As the war in Europe and the Pacific heated up, Viens enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on May 9, 1942.
The first of his many letters home during the 17 months he served in the Marines arrived in Putnam dated May 24 1942.  At this time, he’s assigned to Platoon 379 at Parris Island, S.C.  In a series of letters from June 4 through June 28, he tells of rifle training, missing home cooking, and his platoon being the best in a parade revue and qualifying 100% with pistols.  His final letter home, in June, mentions being paid $60, which he is sending home to be put in his savings account.
The highlight of July correspondence is receiving his marksmanship medal.  His July 30 letter is received from New River, N.C.  In a letter dated Aug. 3, 1942, Viens notes he’ll be shipping out in mid-August but he will not be able to divulge where he’s going.
In mid-September 1942, he writes of crossing the equator and going through the King Neptune’s Court ritual.  (King Neptune’s Court is a ritual that commemorates a sailor’s first crossing of the equator.  The ritual includes a haircut and being soaked in a barrel where you then become a shellback.)  From September through December 1942 he writes he’s on, “some island in the South Pacific,” where he goes through machine gun schooling.
His letters of late December relate to missing being home for Christmas.  In one letter he asks his mother to keep him in her prayers and Masses.  On Christmas Day he writes of attending Midnight Mass and going to confession and receiving communion.
As the calendar turns to 1943, Viens’ letters give no indication of his location.  He frequently writes of his love for his brother Bernard and sister Gladys.  He also makes note of his appreciation for letters he is receiving from Miss Keith (most likely Abbie Keith one of the most beloved teachers in the history of Putnam schools) and Monsignor Wodarski most likely the pastor of St. Mary Church).  Some letters also mention some of his friends, specifically Dick and Conrad Waters and Leo Gagnon.
The letters home to his father and mother continue to flow in despite changes in location that he’s experiencing.  In a letter prior to Mother’s Day 1943, Viens writes, “I will be attending Mass and receiving communion on Sunday to honor Mother’s Day as this is all I can do this year.  I shall be thinking of you all that day.”
His July 4, 1943, letter inquires if there was a celebration at The Park (presumably Murphy Park).  Again he mentions going to confession and receiving communion.  He asks for the address of Miss Bernier (presumably high school teacher Irene Bernier)
Viens’ September letters appear to have more urgency in his writing.  He often writes asking his father to send him a 45 pistol.
Cpl. Viens letter of Aug. 16, 1943, reveals that he’s been on American and British Samoa, “two places I never want to go to again.”  From there he went to Auckland, New Zealand, “a place to have a good time.”  He then states that he’s back in the tropics and closes, “there is little to say about this place.  There is no worry.  I am safe and well.”
In September Viens wrote three letters home, including his final letter of Sept. 16 that his mother received on the same day she was informed he had been killed.  He repeatedly mentions wanting the 45-automatic, writing “that is the only thing I need.’
On Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1943, approximately two months following his death, George Viens mother, Blanche Viens received official correspondence from his battalion commanding officer and the chaplain who was with him when he succumbed. 
Excerpts from the letters indicate, “He measured up as a man among his Marine comrades. He unflinchingly did his bit for a better world.  He died in the line of duty.”
Another letter indicated that his remains were temporarily interred in Grave 2, Row 69, in a military cemetery in the locality where his death occurred. 
According to interment records at St. Mary’s Parish, United States Marine Corps CPL. George R. Viens body was returned to the U.S. following the end of WWII.  His body was officially interred at St Mary’s Cemetery on June 5, 1948, in the plot designated Lot 710-711.  The plot was purchased by the family on Oct. 4, 1943.
In February 1947, American Legion Post #13 officially changed its name to Mayotte-Viens.  The post recently officially celebrated its 100th anniversary.  On March 11, 2019, George R. Viens would have celebrated his 97th birthday.
Mental images of George R. Viens that are portrayed by the yellowed pages of newspaper clippings from 1943, official letters from the Marine Corps and photos of the 1940 Putnam High School yearbook are of a quietly rugged young man who was prepared to carry out orders in support of his country.
Those individuals who participated in WWII are referred to as America’s “Greatest Generation.”  George R. Viens, through his military service proved that he certainly deserved to be part of the classification that calls itself America’s “Greatest Generation.”
(Excerpts for this article were cited from the September 30, 1943, and March 6, 1947, editions of the Putnam Patriot, Official United States Marine Corp correspondence, the records of St. Mary Church and the 1940 Putnam High School Yearbook.  Special thanks to local historian and genealogist Valentine Iamartino, who researched local newspapers and read through all of the letters written by Cpl. George Viens and summarized them in chronological order.  And finally, thanks to Michael (the nephew of George Viens) and Nanette Viens for sharing the material in the small suitcase belonging to Blanche Viens, the mother of Cpl. George R. Viens.) 
Editor’s note: The Mayotte-Viens American Legion Post #13 of Putnam is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer. It was named in honor of Anselm J. Mayotte and George Viens, two local veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. 


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