Nancy Noonan Woitkowski knows her brother and Tom McKnight were there in spirit.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — As a kid, Gregory Aloysius Noonan would meet up with his best friend Tom McKnight and head to the Miner Road bridge to fish and crack jokes.
As they grew older and the Vietnam War came, Noonan was far from that brook. He was overseas with pride, defending the United States of America. He was quite decorated too.
Noonan was drafted in 1968 and sent to Vietnam as a sergeant with the 9th Infantry Division. He was under heavy fire in three battles and was twice wounded -- the most serious was being shot in the leg in the Mekong Delta.
He earned three Combat Infantryman Badges, three Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, and a Vietnam Service Medal and three bronze stars for heroism among others.
"The sacrifices and the actions he took in Vietnam are impressive," said state Sen. Adam Hinds.
Noonan returned home safely in 1969 but lost his life on June 30, 1990, in an accident in Georgia. But his accomplishments, his sense of humor, and his part in the Lanesborough community won't be forgotten.
In 2012, the state Department of Transportation completely rebuilt the Miner Road bridge where Noonan spent so much of his childhood and McKnight, Noonan's best man and godfather to Noonan's only son, headed an effort to get it named after the Vietnam veteran.
It took some time to get the dedication in place and family and officials finally celebrated Noonan on Thursday.
"In this quiet spirit, we look beyond the bridge and signs and find the promise of honor and an everlasting sense of gratitude. We see with the eyes of great joy a place of dignity and hope," said the Rev. Peter Gregory, Noonan's uncle, who blessed the bridge Thursday morning.
In cold and windy weather, the rifle squad fired off a few rounds, taps was played, and the honor guard lined the bridge as family, friends, and community members gathered around to unveil new signage making the bridge's name official.
McKnight was notably absent. He had died this past spring. But Noonan's sister, Nancy Noonan Woitkowski, knew they were both there in spirit.
"I'm sure he's looking down with Greg and saying 'OK, you're cold, buck up, you can stand it' because that was their attitude," Woitkowski said.
State Rep. John Barrett III chuckled at that joke. Barrett has plenty of stories to share about Noonan because he was a classmate in high school.
"Lanesborough had quite a group that came up and Greg Noonan was one of the leaders. Tommy McKnight was a little older. And the bond we established in those four years was amazing," Barrett said.
It was 1970 when Barrett had last seen Noonan at a Mount Greylock class reunion. Barrett was serving as the master of ceremonies and had to introduce the decorated war hero at a time when the war was wildly unpopular.
A plaque was previously placed on the bridge.
"Greg Noonan was someone who really should be honored, who fought at a time when this country was in a war that wasn't popular. He came back proud that he served his country," Barrett said. "I was proud of our class that night because they stood, rose, and gave him a standing ovation for what he had done."
"And Greg, true to form, got up there and started cracking jokes."
Barrett remembers Noonan as a good-natured guy and a tremendous athlete. While Hinds recognized the importance of honoring Noonan's role in defending the country.
"I am constantly reminded of the importance and the role we have in recognizing the service our brothers, sisters, uncles, and those who came before us in defense of our country. It takes these acts to make sure we never forget the importance of that role," Hinds said.
State District 1 Highway Director Francisca Heming gave Woitkowski and Noonan's brother John replica plaques of the signs honoring their late brother. The same signs hang on each side of the bridge, along the wall of the bridge there is a previously placed dedication to Noonan, and as a gift to the town, McKnight made a display including replica medals Noonan had won which hangs in Town Hall.
"It is in this time and place we share the joy of justice, the righteousness of honor, and the warmth of love," Gregory said of the event.
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