As the Veteran's Agent serving Northborough, Shrewsbury and Grafton, Richard "Dick" Perron has high praise for the way Massachusetts has handled veteran affairs. Referring to the state's Department of Veteran Services, he says: "It's a pretty well-organized department. The veterans of Massachusetts are very fortunate."
The goal of a veteran's agent, Perron says, is to ensure that returning veterans are taken care of while they re-adjust to civilian life.
"If they're out of work, we try to get them a job," Perron says. "We try to keep their living up to a certain standard."
He refers to President Abraham Lincoln's pledge to Civil War veterans in his 1865 Second Inaugural Address, in which he promises, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan."
Perron, who is 89 and has been a Veteran's Agent for 27 years, is part of a system that, he argues, is unparalleled anywhere else in the country. Every town must have a full- or part-time Veterans' Agent, who, by law, must be a veteran as well.
For Perron, that tumultuous journey took him through not one, but two branches of the military during two wars.
"It was quite an experience," Perron says.
Sitting in his office swivel chair, he recounts how he joined the Navy in 1942, as the United States was stepping up its involvement in World War II. For four years, until the end of the war, Perron served as a quartermaster on board the USS Jeffers and saw action in every major theatre of the war. Most notably, he was present during the invasion of Sicily in 1943, on D-Day in 1944 and in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
Soon after the war, Perron found himself re-entering the service when the Korean War began. This time, he spent six years in the Air Force as a Technical Sergeant. Stationed for a time in Morrocco, he helped construct a single-runway airbase for the B-52 bombers that the U.S. Military kept constantly airborne during the Cold War.
Upon leaving the military a second time, Perron returned to Massachusetts and spent 35 years as a design engineer for Stone and Webster in Boston. His "retirement" from the company didn't last long, as he began his new career as a Veteran's Agent soon after.
Since then, he has met with veterans from wars past and present.
One story in particular stands out to him: Once, a friend who was a Korean war veteran came to Perron looking for help. Though he had been a machinest, the veteran was having trouble finding work.
Perron, looking through different job openings, suggested that the veteran apply to Stop and Shop. But the veteran didn't like the idea of becoming a bagger.
"I said, 'It's money,'" Perron says.
He eventually convinced his friend to apply, and he was accepted. Though the man started as a bagger, he later worked his way up to head of the meat department.
"That makes you happy," Perron says.
Many locals have recognized the extent of Perron's service and hard work. In 2010, the Northborough Rotary Club honored him with their annual "Pride in Workmanship" award, which recognizes pride and exemplary work in the recipient's chosen field.
Said Northborough Town Administrator John Coderre: "I think Dick is an inspiration for all of us."
Above all, what has been most important to Perron after all these years is knowing that he has made a difference in a veteran's life.
"I like it when I get the thanks from the guys who said, 'Gee, you helped me out,'" he says.