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Memorial service Wednesday for decorated Vietnam vet with no family: ‘It’s something he deserves’

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

At battle in Vietnam, Army solider James “Jimmy” Scannell saw the machine gunner was shot. So he bolted across a field “under intense fire” and seized control of the machine gun.

“He took a hold of the 50-caliber machine gun and turned the battle around,” recalled Scannell’s longtime friend, Bill Foley, describing one of Scannell’s many acts of valor in Vietnam.

The public is invited to a memorial service Wednesday to honor Scannell, 71, who died this winter with no living relatives.

Scannell was born on July 4, 1950 and grew up in Lawrence.

He died on Feb. 2, 2022, after a long bout with Parkinson’s Disease caused by exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam, said Foley, a former Lawrence resident.

Foley met Scannell in the 1980s when they both worked for the National Park Service in Boston. Over the years, Foley said he heard stories about Scannell being a Vietnam combat veteran.

However, he said Scannell, a strong and stoic man, never spoke of the military decorations he amassed.

“While serving in Vietnam, Jimmy was awarded the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and several Bronze Stars with Valor, as well as numerous air commendation medals for bravery,” according to Scannell’s obituary.

Foley said it wasn’t until late in Scannell’s life that he learned of his friend’s military honors. Scannell was ill and asked him to pick up some personal items and paperwork from his home. He quickly learned of his friend’s heroism.

“I said to Jimmy, ‘You never mentioned any of this.’ And he said, ‘I never told anyone,'” Foley recalled.

Scannell’s birth mother died when he was a toddler. Scannell then went to live with his father and stepmother in the Stadium Projects in Lawrence.

Right after his 17th birthday, his father went with him to a recruiter to enlist in the Army, Foley said.

Foley said Scannell was married but his wife died in the 1980s from cancer.

His obituary listed a partner of 14 years, Barbara Langlois of Merrimac.

After serving in the Army, Scannell had a 33-year career with the National Park Service in Boston as a gardener and general maintenance worker. During his tenure, he worked mainly in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Foley said.

Every year on his birthday — July 4 — Scannell volunteered to work.

“… He took great pride in assisting as a line handler during the Annual July 4th Turnaround Cruise of USS Constitution, ‘Old Ironsides.’ He was awarded a proclamation of ‘Honorary Crew-member for Old Ironsides,'” according to his obituary.

Foley said he told Scannell he could be compensated for working on the July 4 holiday, probably with double-time pay.

“I am not doing it for the pay,” Scannell had replied.

Foley said Scannell “always had that sense of service.”

“He had a lot of wonderful attributes. He just never boasted. He was an interesting person,” Foley said.

A small number of people attended Scannell’s services when he died in February, said Foley, pointing to the lack of relatives and the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, June 8, a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Waverly Road, North Andover.

Foley said he’s been told some veterans’ groups and Gold Star Wives are coming. He hopes to see a robust attendance.

“I think it’s going to be something he deserves,” he said.

Foley said he’s had three friends who served their country only to die from Agent Orange exposure.

“There are still men and women affected by a war that’s been over that long … a war that ended decades ago,” Foley said.

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