A View from Glen Hill: United in community

A month ago, a special ceremony was held at the Old Town Hall honoring First Lieutenant Charles M. Baffo for his extraordinary service during World War II as a bomber pilot. He undoubtedly saved many lives in France when — after his B-24 was hit with heavy flack and was forced to turn back from its bombing mission into Germany — instead of jettisoning his bombs over a heavily populated area of France as per standing directives (to lessen the risk of explosion in an emergency landing), he brought his plane in on a rough stretch of land with only one chance to get his landing right and with all of his bombs still on board. While only 20 years old at the time, he did everything right to save both his crew and those many French civilians.

For this heroic act, he was recently awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French government — most remarkably, and unusually, bestowed posthumously. To this high honor has now been added the naming of a portion of Route 106 for him, thanks to the work of state Reps. Gail Lavielle, who hosted this recognition ceremony, and Tom O’Dea.

Yet none of this recent recognition might have happened given the quiet way Charles Baffo led his post-war life. Following his return from wartime service, he graduated from Yale with degrees in architecture and worked as a professional architect here in Wilton, never discussing his wartime experiences with anyone, including even his four daughters. However, three months before Charles Baffo’s death, he and Gail’s husband, Jean-Pierre Lavielle, developed a remarkably close friendship, and in two dozen extended discussions, Jean-Pierre gathered from him the information needed to proceed with an application for the Legion d’Honneur.  Jean-Pierre spoke movingly of the experience of this gradual revelation as his friendship with Charles Baffo grew.

One of Mr. Baffo’s daughters explained that when she and her sisters asked their father why he had said nothing to them about his remarkable wartime experiences, he replied that living through 35 bombing missions over Germany was simply too searing for him to be able to discuss the subject with them. In fact, he explained to Jean-Pierre that he faced constant fear: before, during, and after missions — essentially all the time of his service.

Among this ceremony’s attendees were two of Wilton’s other World War II veterans: Trygve Hansen and Doug Jones; Trygve himself is to be the recipient of a Legion d’Honneur award for his wartime service in a ceremony to be conducted at West Point before both West Point cadets and cadets from France’s own military academy. Also present at the ceremony honoring Mr. Baffo were other distinguished members of Wilton’s American Legion Post including its Commander Don Hazzard — who spoke movingly of the enormous impact of World War II on all of us to this very day in everything from our freedom to enormous technological advances — and our newest selectman, Ken Dartley.

While Ken and I have found ourselves on different sides of significant town issues, I know Ken to have a great heart, especially for the needs of others, as well as having been an accomplished business executive and entrepreneur. He played important roles in the establishment of Wilton Commons and Stay at Home in Wilton as well as in the Kick-for-Nick soccer ball program that expanded from Wilton nationwide, allowing our troops to engage with kids in sports activities in the way that PFC Nick Madaras envisioned and himself championed before his tragic death in Iraq.

Even though I understand Selectman Dick Dubow’s concerns about Ken’s position on one issue specifically, I think his fellow selectmen have been wise in choosing Ken to complete Jim Saxe’s term. It definitely can be strategically smart to invite a responsible member of our citizenry representing a different point of view into the highest levels of town government, and fostering effective dialogue among differing parties has long been a Wilton strength. Who knows — seeing how the sausage is made might even change Ken’s opinions! But whether it does or not, his presence should be an important force for the good.

So while Ken may continue to tease me in his friendly and witty way about being “the Great Pontificator,” I’m glad he’s there. Meanwhile, events like this stirring ceremony in First Lieutenant Baffo’s honor bring us together in ways that transcend our differences and remind us of how strongly we are united in community.