The TASC List: Citizen soldiers
The parades are over. The speeches completed. The tributes have been paid. The memories begin to fade. Another Memorial Day enters the history book reminding us of our finest hours, and some of those who helped to make them happen.
As we look again at that splendid panorama of names and faces displayed last week in the special section of this newspaper, this patchwork quilt that represents a sample cross section of our Wilton community, we may see many things.
Current friends and neighbors, old colleagues from past associations, family names with unknown faces, and individuals from times gone by; they are the veterans, so carefully curated and catalogued by Carol Russell, looking out across the years. Most are pictured when they were actively serving, at that time having escaped harm’s way, and considering what might lie ahead. Some wear the look of maturity, and reflection, perhaps, of how the past has formed them, and what it means to be a veteran among veterans.
They now march across the page, seven or eight rows deep, and seven columns wide. They have marched more colorfully in the past, accompanied by martial music. Now their ranks may be a bit more uniform, but their positions are frozen in time. They represent a composite of all that is good about our country, and all that is strong within our community. They are citizen soldiers. Called to serve, and then to defend, and finally to return to homes and family once more.
Ask any of them what period of time they cherished most, and what life passage provided the greatest development and depth to the person they have become, and you will quickly find that the answer is: “my tour in the military.” Of course, they were young then. They were courageous. They were adventuresome. They were ready to be molded by discipline, and called to a level of duty and responsibility most had not yet experienced. In this country’s finest traditions through the rigors of war and the tensions of an often anxious peace, these kinds of individuals brought us through the toughest times.
On the parapet of my military school, overlooking the Memorial Garden, are inscribed these words: “…a crowd of honorable youths pressing up the hill of science with noble emulation. A gratifying spectacle. An honor to our country and our state. Objects of honest pride to their instructors. And fair specimens of citizen soldiers. Attached to their native state. Proud of her fame. And ready in every time of deepest peril to vindicate her honor or defend her rights.” (Colonel J. T. L. Preston, professor, circa 1839).
For the Institute, that early formulation of service and return to civil life has produced many Medal of Honor recipients and Rhodes Scholars. In a larger sense, and closer to home, it has produced, as shown in the photo gallery, much of the strength, sinew, and sensibility found threaded through the Wilton fabric of yesterday and today.
Recent losses to that roster have included a former Army sergeant, high school art teacher, and excellent tennis instructor. He brought to Wilton a love of painting, a fiercely competitive spirit on the courts, and a drive for perfection in all things, from the height of nets to the reach of volunteer assistance to shut-ins. Another was an Army helicopter pilot who later performed in civilian life whenever and wherever an emergency, accident or perilous weather event made things more dangerous for townsfolk. Their contributions will continue on, in the recursive sense of personal memories within a larger memorial.
Reflect for a moment. Take another look at those images. They represented us in battles, patrols, securing the perimeter, supporting the air strikes, and improving the organization itself. They have projected America’s best values and interests abroad. Service yesterday in military uniform. Service today in civilian clothes here at home. They have made Wilton what it is today, and what it can be tomorrow.