MIDDLESEX - Construction workers will take the better part of three years to replace the steel girders that form the backbone of the bridge traversing over the MBTA tracks by Salem Street in Woburn.
But as for the pathway leading to the unfinished structure being memorialized after Woburn's Angelo Piazza, those events spanned just shy of an entire lifetime.
In mid-April, thanks to legislation sponsored by State Rep. Richard Haggerty (D-Woburn), Governor Charles Baker signed into law an act that will officially designate the reconstructed $4.3 million Salem Street bridge in East Woburn after the decorated Korean War veteran.
Considered one of Woburn's most decorated war veterans, city leaders say the state would be hard-pressed to find a more deserving person to honor. And unlike the case for many other bridge and public construction project naming ceremonies, the 88-year-old Piazza, a retired police officer who still resides in his hometown, fully expects to be around to partake in the ribbon-cutting.
"It has been said, ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors.’ So is true today as we honor Mr. Piazza for his heroism at war and his distinguished service at home,” said Haggerty after the bill was signed. “We are grateful to Angelo for his love of country and his love of Woburn."
“The Piazza family is honored that this dedication admires and respects not only 'Angie’s' service in the US Marine Corps, but also his 34-plus years of service as a police officer to the community of Woburn. “The bridge will serve as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice made by Angie and the other veterans.”
Though his parents resided in Everett at the time, Piazza lived with his older sibling in Woburn and was educated in the city's school system before he enlisted in the US Marines at 19-years-old. Known for his athletic prowess, the three-sport varsity athlete at Woburn High School was a star fullback for the football squad and outfielder for the Tannner's league champion baseball squad, accomplishments that Woburnites proudly remembered as word first emerged about his service overseas during the Korean War.
In fact, before making his name as a war hero and popular member of the city's police force, local newspaper accounts detailing Piazza's early days in the three-year conflict often referenced the high school standout's earlier athletic exploits.
In one such 1952 newspaper article, which described high casualties sustained by Piazza's 2nd Marine Division combat unit as it assaulted an enemy-held artillery position atop an elevated position known as Hill 139, one local journalist familiarized readers with the young Marine by summarizing his former feats during the 1950 Thanksgiving football game with rival Winchester.
"Angie scored the equalizing T.D. in the 1950 Winchester-Woburn game that saw a plucky Tanner underdog tie a great Winchester eleven in a sea of mud at the Woburn High Stadium. Angie drilled holes in the Winchester line all morning and finally climaxed an 85 yard march with a thrilling 24-yard off-tackle T.D. jaunt," the newspaper article read.
By the time Piazza would step-off Korean soil in the winter of 1953 and return to the US to finish out his enlistment term in North Carolina, the Woburnite's heroism during the war featured much more prominently in news accounts about his military service.
Wounded in action in the winter 1953, word quickly reached Piazza's hometown about the Purple Heart recipient's bravery and subsequent awarding of a Bronze Star, an honor given for heroic and meritorious service.
In a later newspaper account detailing the Bronze Star ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Piazza's commanding officers noted that Piazza "displayed exceptional courage, initiative, and professional skill in the performance of his duties."
"On one occasion, during a raid on a strongly fortified hostile position, he dauntlessly led his men into the enemy frontline and engaged with enemy troops in close fighting. When the order to withdraw was given, he assisted in the evacuation of his wounded comrades," read a newspaper article at the time.
According to Woburn Veterans Agent Larry Guiseppe, who asked Haggerty in the fall of 2019 to consider filing legislation renaming the bridge in the retired police officer's honor, he has long been impressed by the city resident's commitment to the community's former servicemen and soldiers.
The Korean War veteran has tried to ensure that those who served in the three-year war, sometimes referred to as America's "Forgotten War", are instead remembered for the sacrifices they made.
As a result of a partnership with Woburn Historical Society members Kathy Lucero and Brian Oulette, Piazza and many of his fellow Korean War veterans in 2010 participated in the production of a documentary entitled, 'Chronicles of War: Korea".
“He is one of our most decorated Korean War veterans, a strong advocate of veterans’ services and a patriotic member of the Woburn community. His years of service to our city as a police officer show a sincere commitment to his dedication as a servant of the people," said Guiseppe.
Dating back to 1928 — just three years before Piazza was born — the old Salem Street bridge was first identified as in need of replacement by state officials back in 1999. Nearly two decades later, state transportation officials valued the cost of the replacement project at $5.56 million, but by the time the services contract was inked, winning bidder Kodiak Corporation agreed to complete the replacement for $4.3 million.
Located in East Woburn towards the Washington Street side of Salem Street, the elevated structure is perched over the MBTA commuter rail tracks that run from Anderson Regional Transportation Center towards Wedgemere Station in Winchester. Construction, which just entered its second year, is expected to continue until 2021.
According to federal transportation records, as of 2014, an estimated 25,000 commuters crossed the structure annually, and by 2031, that traffic is expected to jump to 47,221 vehicle trips.
Though Piazza retired from the Woburn Police Department after 34 years of service, his two sons carried on the family's law enforcement tradition. Michael Piazza recently retired from the force, but his namesake, Woburn Police Detective Angelo Piazza Jr., is still wearing the uniform.
According to Haggerty, though happy that the bill was finally signed after its near two-year trek through Beacon Hill's legislative chamber, his efforts wouldn't have been possible without the help of fellow State Rep. Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) and State Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington).
The Woburn state representative also praised the efforts of Mayor Scott Galvin, who also joined in the lobbying campaign.
"We don’t make these decisions lightly, and this is just another example of the terrific job Woburn does recognizing the sacrifices of our veterans. Larry (Guiseppe) and Mayor Galvin did a great job advocating for this honor for Angie, and it makes it even more special knowing he served our city as a police officer," said Haggerty.