The carol of the Veterans Day bells

Oct 30, 2017

The bells will be ringing in the tri-town on Veterans Day, November 11, in honor of all veterans past and present.

The project, called "Bells of Remembrance," is the brainchild of Mary O'Keefe of Mattapoisett. "We always used to spend a weekend in Montreal to buy snow gear, since the exchange rate was so favorable," she said of sojourns as a family in the 1970s.

Canada celebrates Remembrance Day, while the United States celebrates Veterans Day—both holidays take place on November 11.

O'Keefe was with her family in Montreal on one Remembrance Day. "We were given a warning that in five minutes, everything would stop," she said. "We had no idea what was happening. But then they ring the bells, and everyone stops, quite literally in the street."

The bells are rung from churches, from town halls, from schools and firehouses. They're all rung in celebration of all veterans, living and deceased, and the sacrifices they have made in the line of duty.

"We're just trying to get people to remember what Veterans Day is really about," O'Keefe explained.

She knew immediately that she wanted to bring the tradition back to the United States. She found out that at one time, it had been a tradition to ring bells in honor of military veterans on Veterans Day, but the tradition had died out as the years passed.

When she retired, O'Keefe took the project on, with the help of Lori Bardwell, also from Mattapoisett. "For three or four years I worked on it, and couldn't really get it off the ground," she said. "Then I went to a Mattapoisett Womens Club meeting and pitched the idea, and everyone loved it."

With the help of the Women's Club, and specifically Women's Club president Kathy McAuliffe, bells will be rung in Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, Dartmouth, Wareham and possibly Fairhaven, beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 11.

So far, O'Keefe says, the Congregational Churches of Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett will all ring bells, as will the bells of Wareham's Congregational Church and the Church of the Good Shepherd. The First Congregational Church of Dartmouth has also agreed to participate.

Mattapoisett's Center School, Fairhaven Town Hall, the Fairhaven Congregational Church and the Universalist Church of Fairhaven are all attempting to take part as well.

More participants are eagerly sought. "We're just calling people on the phone, and seeing if they're interested," O'Keefe said. "It's tough to find buildings that have bells any more."

Those with questions about the Bells of Remembrance project can call O'Keefe at 508-758-2801, or Lori Bardwell at 508-758-2164.

O'Keefe says she'd like the project to spread. "First Night started in Boston, and now it's everywhere," she said. "I'd love to see the project move further."