Cindy Gaylord, the head of Westfield’s historical commission, received a phone call three weeks before Christmas from a man saying he had “something of historical significance” to the city, she told CNN.
The bronze statue of Gen. William Shepard is located in a park in the center of Westfield, a small town in western Massachusetts. Born in Westfield in 1737, Shepard entered the Continental Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1775 and served throughout the Revolutionary War.
After the sword was noticed to be missing in the early 1980’s, the replacement sword was welded to the statue so it wouldn’t be taken again.
The mystery of the lost sword wasn’t solved until last Monday, when Gaylord met the man who took it about 40 years ago.
“He requested to tell me the story in person,” said Gaylord, who had a socially distant meeting with the man and his wife on December 28. “It was clear that he felt a lot of remorse, he had tears in his eyes while telling me the story.”
The man, who Gaylord said wanted to remain anonymous, is a veteran. After serving in the military for four years, he came to Westfield to attend Westfield State University.
While on a night out, a few fellow students dared him to take the sword from the statue of Shephard.
He pulled the sword with “brute strength” and fell off the statue’s pedestal, he told Gaylord. The heavy sword pierced his shirt and the ground on the way down, according to Gaylord.
The man ended up taking the sword to his family home near Boston where it hung over the front door for more than 20 years, Gaylord said. It wasn’t until recently when the man and his sister were clearing out the family home that he decided to return it to the city.
“He told me that it caused him such shame that he’s a veteran and he did that to another veteran,” said Gaylord. “I told him we accept the sword back, no questions asked and absolve you of all guilt.”
“We’re just so delighted and think so highly of this man for returning the sword,” said Gaylord. “It took a lot for him to come forward, but he knew it was important to bring it back.”