Stories of love, courtship and friendship take center stage during February in celebration of Valentine’s Day. This year we’re reminded of a special place created steps from Freedom’s Way’s office on the grounds of Fort Devens, that holds, perhaps, the most hopeful stories of love during a time of war.
On November 23, 1918, one hundred years ago this year, the Sweet Heart Memorial on MacArthur Avenue in what was then known as Camp Devens was dedicated. The heart-shaped memorial, flanked an ivy-covered curved stone staircase, serving as a tribute to servicemen and their loved ones, who face the separation of war. The inscription on the plaque above the heart reads:
“To those citizens of the United States who at the call of humanity laid aside their vocations to become soldiers in the Grand Army of Liberty."
Legend suggests that the Sweet Heart Memorial was constructed with stones brought by soldiers' loved ones—sisters, girlfriends, wives and mothers—but nothing documents this as the source of materials used by the base engineers who built the memorial.
The oldest surviving monument on Devens, over the years many servicemen and women have commemorated their sweethearts and weddings with photographs at the Sweet Heart Memorial.
From a diary in possession of the Fort Devens Museum we learn of Charles Clifford Gammons, a young man who was part of the 76th Division training at Camp Devens beginning August 29, 1917. Gammons kept his diary from the time he served at Camp Devens until his discharge on January 1, 1919 after serving in England and France.
His very first entry states, "Sally and I decide to get married January 26. Home for the day." His home, and that of his childhood sweetheart Sally Latham, was Cohasset. A graduate in Dartmouth College’s Class of 1916, where he’d been an Army ROTC cadet, Gammons enlisted in Boston in 1917 and was eventually assigned as a second lieutenant to the 302nd Machine Gun Battalion of the 76th Division training at Camp Devens that August.
After a honeymoon skiing in Vermont, he returned to Camp Devens and Sally to Cohasset, MA. He would travel by train to visit her, and, if he received a shorter 24-hour leave, Sally would stay in Ayer, nearby Groton and occasionally Harvard. Time was spent on walks together to what are now Mirror Lake and Robbins Pond. An avid reader, his diary also notes his thoughts on the many books he filled his time reading.
On July 8, 1918, his unit headed overseas, traveling to England and then on to France. While there his unit was not called to join the action, and eventually Gammons, struggling with a serious knee ailment, found himself on a troop ship back home, arriving in New York on December 17, 1918 and home to Sally for Christmas.
Gammons pursued a career in law, following his earlier interest, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1920. He and Sally had three children. Charles died at age 72 in 1964, and Sally in 1981 at age 88.
It is unknown if Charles and Sally Gammons returned to Camp Devens, visiting the Sweet Heart Memorial to snap a photo on the heart-shaped walkway, but perhaps, we can imagine they did.
Please contact us or the Fort Devens Museum with any Sweet Heart Memorial stories and photos of soldiers stationed at Fort Devens.
All photos are courtesy of the Fort Devens Museum.