A Proud Armenian Veteran Rekindles Past


Harold Pargamian as a young soldier

Harold Pargamian now

By Tom Vartabedian

METHUEN, Mass. — You may or may not know Harold Paragamian, depending on where you live. He is surely not a household name unless you visit his Methuen home where he has lived as a bachelor throughout his 85 years.

He is a quiet man, relatively private, and surely not one to shine in any limelight.
He comes to church regularly, sits alone in the rear, and may stop later for a cup of coffee during the social aftermath following Badarak, then is gone as silently as he arrived.

People who attend St. Gregory’s regularly may know his name — or recognize the face —but usually don’t put the two together.

Beneath the surface is a humble Army veteran of World War II, who spent 14 months in the European Theater at places like Normandy and the Rhineland, earning four campaign stars and several anxious moments in the process.

For a 19-year-old fresh out of high school, the experience was a traumatic one, and the fact he’s Armenian through-and-through makes it all the more relevant in our ethnic family.

Jimmy Tashjian’s book, The Armenian-American in World War II, is filled with pictures and stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Paragamian is among the more fortunate not to be included in the contents and lives to tell about it.

“You wondered if you would ever come out of it alive,” he said. “There were some bitter days. Not only was it devastating to see your own men killed, it was also painful to see Germans die. The human element is very close to me.”

His military service spanned four decades as a Civil Service employee working in the Army Post Exchange at Fort Devens, Ayer, whether it was as a forklift operator or sales advocate, before retiring in 1995.

“Through the grace of God, I have much to be thankful for,” he adds. “I count my blessings each and every day. World War II veterans are dying every day. Hopefully, I can still make a small difference.”

Well, Paragamian did just that one day recently. He returned to Paris to retrace his military roots. He took a 25-minute train trip to St. Lea la Foret and stood on the same streets where he once faced German gunfire.

He marveled at how much the town had changed from the time he helped liberate it with other members of the 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

Without realizing it, he returned to a hero’s welcome.

“It brought back a flood of memories,” said Paragamian. “Strangers there greeted me with open arms and treated me like royalty. I had dreamed of revisiting the town for many years. My age was hardly a factor. It was a mission I was bent on taking.”

Not knowing where to go, Paragamian turned to a man on the street and explained his situation. The stranger quickly brought him to the mayor’s office and explained who Paragamian was and what he was doing here.

As soon as the town’s mayor knew who he was, she broke into a huge smile and had pictures taken in front of a World War II Memorial.

In return, Paragamian gave the city official some of the shoulder patches he had worn on his Army uniform. Upon his return home, he sent the city’s church a donation to express his gratitude at escaping the city safely during the height of the conflict more than six decades ago. Paragamian still enjoys keeping in shape with walks and tends to a model train collection, which takes him to auctions and hobby shops. In his golden years, he was still taking classes at Merrimack College, more for self-esteem than vocational exercise.

“You’re never too old to learn,” he maintains.