Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 1, 2014

A tribute to 'Buster'

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — Childhood friend Bill Dalton was the guest speaker at Saturday's Deyermond Park dedication ceremony. As always, the Andover Townsman columnist was eloquent in sharing a glimpse of Warren "Buster" Deyermomd. For those who weren't there in person to hear him, it was too good to miss, so we're posting it for all to enjoy.

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Members of our military, veterans, elected and appointed officials, townspeople, those coaches, athletes and their families who are kind enough to be here, but most of all the Deyermond family. Thank you for coming.

The Deyermonds are the royalty of Andover when it comes to public service. No family had more people in uniformed public service in the last 100 years. I particularly welcome Buster’s brothers, Cal and Mickey, Buster’s sister, Mary Jo, was unable to be here. It goes without saying that all three have been in public service.

The purpose of my address is to dedicate a memorial to Warren C. Deyermond, better known as “Buster.” I am honored to do so, and am among many here who feel strong emotions about Buster.

Obviously, I’ll be speaking to all of you, but I hope the younger people in the audience listen carefully, for you have the most to learn from Buster’s short life.

Growing up, Buster looked like a Buster: big, broad, blond, handsome, and with a whiffle haircut.

Here’s how memorable he was. More than 40 years after he was killed in action, I wrote a column about Buster, and I received more positive comments than from any column I've ever written. The positive comments had nothing to do with my writing; they were about Buster.

Why so many comments? Because Buster was the kind of person that people remember. People loved Buster, and he loved people.

Pam Thornton was one of those who responded to my column. She said, "Buster's spirit goes on in the hearts of all his Andover High School classmates of 1966.” Each year Pam plants flowers at his gravesite. She says, “I do it to honor the person we all knew as outstanding, funny, and lovable. We will never forget him."

John Parisi, Buster's classmate and fellow athlete, said, “Buster was a great guy. I spent lots of time with him in football and baseball. My fondest memory of Buster is when our coach made us run the bases after we played terribly. The entire team was kept running until dark because Buster kept making jokes, cracking everyone up."

His teammates respected Buster so much that he was able to get away with that, and I’d bet the team became more of a team after Buster made them laugh together when they were dog tired.

James Nicoll, who was several years younger than Buster, wrote to me that Buster was like an older brother to him. Buster knew how important an older brother could be because he had one of the best, his older brother, Cal.

It would be too long a list to mention all of Buster’s close friends, but I’ll mention a representative group. My younger brother Bob and Buster were best friends; Tom Margerison was Buster’s co-captain on the high school baseball team; Dean Eastman became the teacher of the year for the entire country; Arthur Ricci, was a long-time Andover police officer.

Buster’s friends were good kids, kids with a moral sense of right and wrong. Yes, they had their “playful” moments, but they knew where the line was between morally right and morally wrong, and they stayed on the right side of the line.

There is a lesson here for all of us but particularly young people. Choose your friends carefully. Your friends will influence you more than anyone in your life outside of your family. If you are young, that influence can carry into adulthood. You don’t need friends who behave badly. Life is not a popularity contest. We all need to understand that. Doing the right thing is what is important.

Buster’s been gone for 45 years, but he positively influenced more people than any young person I ever knew.

My brother Bob says Buster was as "tough as nails" on the athletic field, and he would stand up for anybody. The other day, someone told me that Buster was a kid who would protect a person from a Bully.

The kind of quiet toughness Buster had was an attribute that people admired. He’d not only stand up for anybody, he’d stand up to anybody when it was the right thing to do.

Toughness must be used correctly. Whether you are a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, toughness, both physical and mental, is important, and it can be learned on athletic fields, in libraries or in school labs.

Tough doesn’t mean acting tough, it means having toughness when you need it. Toughness in a crises, toughness like these people in uniform have, toughness to resist going along with something you know is wrong. Toughness often means going further than you thought you could go. When a problem or situation confronts you that takes more than you think you have, that’s the time to persist and persist. I never saw Buster quit.

How did I know Buster so well? Our house was on Buster’s way to high school, and he’d drop by to hop a ride with my brother Bob. Immediately, he felt as much at home in our kitchen as we did. He'd usually get there while Bob was still upstairs and would pop bread into the toaster and sit there munching until he was joined by Bob or the rest of the family.

None of the Daltons were by bothered by this - just the opposite; Buster’s great attitude and little jokes brightened our mornings. His being there became so routine that he was given a key and my mother made sure we were well-stocked with his favorite corn and molasses bread.

As Bob and Buster departed for school, without fail Buster would turn to anyone left in the kitchen and say, "a river dirty," which was a joke, a take-off on the word "arrivederci," which means, “good-bye for now.”

Buster especially loved baseball, and he and I had in common that we were catchers. During baseball season, he most always had a catcher's mitt and ball in his hand.

One day stands out in my memory as clear as it happened yesterday. It was a minor experience but one that epitomized the kind of person Buster was and what he represents to me.

Late in college, I was converted from catcher to pitcher. I asked Buster if he'd catch a few from me one summer’s day. Buster jumped at the idea, and we went to the old varsity field at the Playstead, where I pitched off the mound, and he caught for 75 minutes. (Nobody counted pitches back then,) It was a sunny, warm day, bordering on being hot.

As catchers know, pitching practice isn’t exciting and can be a painful, especially with no catcher's equipment, as in Buster’s case that day. Balls were in the dirt, balls bounced up and hit his unprotected body, he had to reach for pitches and occasionally chase one. I thought that Buster was the only person I knew who cheerfully would do what he was doing. Not only that, his quick wit had me laughing every few minutes.

At the end, I went over to him and rubbed my sweaty hand through his sweaty whiffled hair and thanked him. Buster smiled and said, "It was fun." I thought to myself that, with his attitude, he was about as perfect a young man as I ever knew. He always seemed to have a great attitude, which marked him as a person to watch and follow. And that was another lesson from Buster’s life.

Attitude is important. No matter how you define it, you can always tell when someone has a good attitude. People with good attitudes are like magnets, other people are drawn to them and want to be on their team. They inspire other people to have similar attitudes.

Buster’s good attitude, toughness, ability to pick friends and know right from wrong, is what made him stand apart. That is the reason we are dedicating this memorial to him.

When you walk by his memorial, please be reminded who he was and what the memorial represents. It is not a simple decoration, it represents a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

For the reasons stated today, let Buster’s example be an example for all of us. He deserves to be remembered but, as important, we owe it to ourselves to remember what he represented.

Here are my final words today about Buster. Of all the people I've ever known, he is in the top tier. Buster was completing his tour of duty in Vietnam, and it was almost time to come home when he was killed on July 14, 1969, a month shy of his 21st birthday. This memorial is not a simple decoration, it represents a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and it is representative of all those who have done so.

When I’m in Washington D.C., I always visit the Vietnam Memorial and go to Buster’s name. I’ll stand here and think about him, and I am filled with emotion and my eyes feel it as they blur.

Buster, arrivederci. We who knew you will never forget you.