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Brightwood Boys, The History of the Men from the North End of
Springfield, Massachusetts, During World War II
by Christopher P. Montagna



The red and white flag with six blue stars hanging in the window at 58 Huntington Street was a silent reminder of six sons serving their Country.  Many homes on the surrounding streets bore similar accoutrements, each an acknowledgment of a son far from home.  In some windows the flag bore a gold star, announcing the ultimate sacrifice made by the family.


Red and white flag with blue star for the son who was fighing in WWIIThe house at 58 Huntington Street belonged to my grandfather, Serafino Montagna, Sr. and each star represented one of his sons serving in three military Theaters of Operations (American, European and Pacific) around the world. 



The Brightwood Section of Springfield, Massachusetts was like many neighborhoods across America.  Home to new immigrants, first generation Americans and long established families hoping to make a better life and achieve the American dream.  It was a true melting pot that included families of Italian, Irish, French, German, Polish and other ethnic descents.  The homes included mother and fathers, widows and widowers all relying on the essence of the neighborhood for survival during the Great Depression.


One such display of neighborhood survival occurred in the spring of 1936, when Brightwood, as well as all communities along the Connecticut River, felt the wrath of nature.  On March 15 and 16, a series of ice dams along the Connecticut River caused the waters to begin rising.  When the ice dams broke, rushing water crested the river banks flooding Brightwood.  Citizens took the devastation in stride to return and rebuild their homes and businesses.


Sylvio Beauregard, John Montagna, Enrico Vercellone, unknown boy at Calhoun ParkThe young men and women of Brightwood, who would soon lose the innocents of childhood, played softball in Calhoun Park or baseball and football at the West Street playground.  They played on teams such as the Springfield Bone Crushers and the Atomics.  The Atomics, comprised mostly of kids from the "Goatville" section of Brightwood were accompanied to the games by their mascot, a goat.  During the winter months they could be found sliding down Round Hill on cardboard boxes or skating on Van Horn pond.


On any given Saturday the kids watched the latest serial at the Jefferson Theater.  Summer days could find them in the bleachers at Pynchon Park watching the Springfield Nationals or the Springfield Rifles play baseball.  The park hosted future hall-of-famers as they passed through the minor leagues.  During the game, the youths would stand outside the park waiting for a home run ball to be hit over the outfield wall.   Any returned ball became a free entry into the park.  An early inning homerun ball would be returned so that the holder could enjoy a long game, whereas any late inning ball would be kept for use in a sandlot game.


In 1926 the great Babe Ruth played a game at Pynchon Park, at that time called League Park.  Years later, Frank B. Murray reminisced about the day the "Babe" opened the left field gate and, to the dismay of the powerless management and cops, let a swarm of kids into the park for free.  Other Hall-Of-Fame member's who played in the park included Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams.


The playing fields of the North End hosted the golden age of high school sports. Pynchon Park, Springfield, MassachusettsFootball player such as Angelo Bortolo Bertelli, and baseball players such as Walter "Tux" Sullivan graced the playing fields.  The fields also hosted semi-professional baseball games played between members of the city's Industrial League.  The league was composed of teams from local factories.  The young men also played softball games sponsored by the local cafes.  Among the notable players were the O'Brien brother's (Harold, Edward, William and Walter) who were standout pitchers for the league.

Brightwood was home to local boxers, including Eddie "Bull" Montagna, Henry and Thomas Carey and Chic "The Rooster" Archambault.  During an August 5, 1931 fight in Quebec, the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph reported how Art Chapdelaine, one of the Brightwood Boys and bantam boxer, gave boxer Frank Lebrun "a lesson in boxing, footwork, and speed that surprised a great number of fans. The little Springfield fighter displayed a right jab which bothered Lebrun considerably while at the in-fighting he was unquestionably the Sherbrooke boy's master."  This victory resulted in Art meeting "Panama" Al Brown for the world bantam weight championship on November 18, 1931 in Quebec City. 


For most of the children in Brightwood, their parents were blue-collar workers employed at one of the many factories located in the north end, including the Moore Drop Forge, American Bosch or Van Norman Machine Tool Company.  After work the men would stop by their favorite café, such as Elsie's Café on the corner of Wason Ave, The Brightwood Tavern between Grace and Donald Streets, The Normandie on Eagle Street, The Clover on Alfred Street, Joe's Log Cabin on Grove Street, The Blue Ribbon, The Bancroft on East Hooker Street, Kips Café near Greenwich Street, The Mickey Mouse across from Arch Street and the Lafayette near Osgood Street.  Those of German heritage could be found at the Turnverein atop Round Hill.


In 1929, the nation was thrown into the depths of the Great Depression.   This event would define a generation.  In response to the crisis, the federal government enacted several public relief programs as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.  Among these programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps or the CCC.  The CCC was designed to provide employment for men between the ages of 18 to 24.  The men lived in makeshift camps and worked as manual laborers for conservation projects across the United States.  To provide for their families, several young men from Brightwoood served as members of the CCC. The young men developed state parks and conservation areas in Western Massachusetts.  The skills these young men acquired during their service with the CCC would serve them and our nation well.