When Francis Fitzgerald enrolled in the Marines at the outset of World War II, after having a difficult life as a young man providing for his family in the Great Depression, he was turned away due to a heart murmur.
But it didn’t deter him.
He immediately enlisted in the Merchant Marines, transporting supplies, oil, ammunition and other necessities to the front in Europe and the Pacific. At least twice on two different ships he engaged in combat, and while the Navy guards who fought alongside him were recognized for their service, Fitzgerald’s service was ignored for 45 years by the U.S. government.
That wrong was righted in 1989, while he was still alive, and on Monday, two years after he passed, the City gave his name a permanent home at the corner of Prescott and Tremont Street.
With all five of Fitzgerald’s daughters in attendance, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Veterans Agent Jeanne Cristiano dedicated a Hero Square in Fitzgerald’s honor.
It was the first in Everett for a Merchant Marine.
“Today we are making history,” said Cristiano. “This will be the City of Everett’s first square dedication awarded to a mariner for selfless sacrifice and bravery…during the country’s most dire hour – World War II.”
Mayor DeMaria said he was very emotional when it came to stories about veterans like Fitzgerald. He said the story of how he and other Merchant Marines were ignored must be told.
“Despite their incredible sacrifice, courage and patriotism, the Merchant Marines were excluded from all the ticker tape parades and heroes welcome home events as this was the exclusive domain of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard,” he said. “In fact, the U.S. Merchant Marines would be denied Veteran Status despite all of their heroic acts of bravery in defense of this country. This injustice and mistreatment by the country Fran R. Fitzgerald so loved was not something he would dwell on.”
Fitzgerald married his high school sweetheart, Ethel Baxter, and they settled on Waters Avenue. However, after his five daughters were born, his wife died suddenly and the father of five was left to raise his daughters alone.
They soon moved to 47 Prescott Street, just steps away from the marker.
Charlie Poole, Fitzgerald’s son-in-law, said they were glad to see the marker in place.
“Although we are saddened, it’s great to know now his name will be at the bottom of this street forever where it belongs,” he said.