By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – Henry Lafleur was truly surprised by his selection at the recipient of the Charles H. Tracy Award on May 22.
With a broad smile and a laugh he said, “This is the making of a heart attack.”
He added, “I didn’t expect anything like this.”
The award is given annually in the name of Chicopee native and Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Tracy for his or her volunteerism and service to the city’s veteran community.
Lafleur is a WWII Army veteran who fought in the Battle of Bulge and received the Bronze Star for his actions. He has volunteered at the Chicopee Senior Center for more than 25 years and is a board member of the Council on Aging. He is active the center’s monthly Veteran’s Voice support group and has videotaped dozens of interviews with veterans for the Library of Congress’ Veterans Video History Project. He is also a member of the Galaxy Community Council.
Lafleur admitted that he was puzzled why his friends and family were at the event and why he and his wife were asked to sit in the front row.
The Department of Veterans’ Services, 36 Center St., was renamed the Charles H. Tracy Building as part of the ceremony. City Council President George Moreau and Tracy’s grandniece Paula Marquette of Westfield unveiled a plaque about Tracy.
City Historian Stephen Jendrysik recounted how Tracy, a 29-year-old, married man who worked at Ames Sword Company enlisted for three years in the Army. He was promoted to sergeant and served in battles that included Fredericksburg, Va., Gettysburg, Penn., and Cold Harbor, Mechanicsburg, Va.
“He seemed to be everywhere,” Jendrysik said.
He won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Spotsylvania, Penn, and at the third battle of Petersburg, Va. In the book “Deeds of Honor, Tracy described what he did, “At the ‘Bloody Angle,’ Spotsylvania, May 12th, our corps, the Sixth, supported the Second in the famous charge against [Edward] Johnson’s Division of the Confederate Army. During the thickest of the fight, Lt. Wellman was badly wounded, and I was ordered to take him to the rear. It was about a mile to the hospital, and the shot and shell came so thick and fast that it was extremely hazardous to venture across with a wounded comrade, but I succeeded in carrying out the order, and after placing the lieutenant in the hospital, I came safely back through the fire. Upon reaching my company, Lt. Sparks congratulated me, saying, ‘Tracy, I hope you will not have to cross that field on a like errand again.’ Scarcely had he finished speaking, when a ball pierced his left breast and he fell into my arms. We thought he was mortally wounded, but discovering signs of life in him, decided to take him to the hospital, without waiting for orders.”
He also recounted what happened at the battle of Petersburg. “At one o’clock on the morning of April 2, 1865, my regiment broke camp near Petersburg, Va., and moved up to the enemy’s front. Brigade pioneers and sharpshooters were ordered to rush in advance of the brigade. The pioneers were to remove all obstacles in front of the enemy's works, while the sharpshooters covered the parapet. I was at that time detailed as sergeant of the Third Brigade pioneers, and was second in command in the assault. The part of the line we were expected to carry was made of enclosed works, connected by breastworks of great strength with outer obstructions in the form of two lines of chevaux de frise and two lines of abatis. It was impossible to take the works while the enemy defended them, unless the several lines of obstruction were first removed. As Lt. Shiver was wounded early in the attack the command fell on me and in directing the removal of the first two lines of the obstructions I received a shot over my ear and one in my left side; and while removing the third line, a bullet shattered my right knee-joint, costing me, subsequently, the loss of my leg. Supporting myself on the abatis, I gave my orders to my men, and at last had the satisfaction of seeing them carry away the obstruction, thus enabling General Edwards to rout the enemy and cut the railroad and telegraph. The flag of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts was the first to wave over the enemy's works.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897 and was cited for these two acts of bravery.
Jendrysik said that Tracy died in 1911, “finally succumbing to his war wounds.”
Marquette said her ancestor’s bravery is well known within her family.