NORTON, Mass. – With 70 years of history in his hands, Herbert Church is on a mission.
Since American Legion Post 222 was established in 1937, photographs of all the post commanders, past and present, have hung on the walls. After they were unceremoniously removed three years ago, Church has made it his goal to reunite the photos with their original owners and their families.
“They were taken down without permission, and I salvaged and preserved them all. Some were so old that the frames just broke apart when I took the photos out,” he said.
In the three years since they were removed from the post, Church has carefully preserved and labeled all of the photographs and organized them in chronological order in a binder.
Church’s own photo, taken when he was just 19, is among the 40 pictures that date back to 1937. He was commander of the post from 1954-1956 and stepped in again briefly in 2003.
Due to a decline in membership, the post voted to close its doors earlier this year. The commanders served in all branches of the military and for some, serving as commander was a family business.
“There’s one family here in particular, the Gove family, they had a father and two sons who were all commanders. All three of their pictures are right here,” he said.
Church took particular interest in salvaging the photographs because he helped to put them up on the walls of the post.
“When the post moved years ago, I was one of the ones helping to put all those photos up on the walls, and when no one else was interested in saving them, I stepped in,” he said.
He has only been able to return six of the photos so far, but the past commanders and their families have been grateful to get them back.
“For some of the people who came and got the photos, that was the only picture they had. One person said he was so proud of his picture up there on the wall and was so sad when it got taken down,” he said.
The emotional reaction from the few who had their photos returned has Church hopeful that once people know the photos are available, they will come for them.
“I think people just don’t know the photos are available. Once people know that they can get their picture back, I’m sure they’ll come and get them. It might be somebody’s grandfather or great-grandfather in these pictures, so I’m sure they’ll want to get them back,” he said.
While Church is hopeful to reunite all of the photos with their owners, he predicts he will be able to return at least half. He has contemplated turning the photos over to a historical society, but would prefer to give them back to their original owners.
“There’s different ways and means to reach out to people, so hopefully people will see them and get them back to their owners of their families,” he said.