Wilton Memorial Day: Those who served are remembered
—Bryan Haeffele photos
The gray skies and cool temperatures did not dampen the spirits of those who gathered to watch and march in Wilton’s Memorial Day parade on May 28. Marchers who made their way along Old Ridgefield Road to Center Street and finally along Ridgefield Road to Hillside Cemetery were greeted by well-wishers waving American flags and shouting out thanks to the veterans who passed by.
Among them were Grand Marshal George Ongley, a World War II Navy veteran who served in the Pacific theater and Tom Moore, who delivered the keynote address at the remembrance ceremony. He was an Army intelligence specialist stationed in West Germany during the Cold War.
Vietnam-era veterans included Jim Newton, a former Marine who was this year’s parade committee chairman, and Don Hazzard, a former Navy Seabee who is commander of Wilton’s American Legion Post 86.
They were followed by a police honor guard and more than two dozen organizations including the Wilton High School Marching Band, Our Lady of Fatima Knights of Columbus and school, Glen Gate, Wilton Library, scout troops and sports teams, Wilton CERT, the Wilton Historical Society, Ambler Farm, Wilton Garden Club, Pollinator Pathway, Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department, and Wilton Fire Department.
More than 100 parade-goers made their way to Hillside Cemetery for a ceremony that opened with cannon fire. Newton welcomed everyone and reminded them “more than 1.2 million Americans have died as a result of military conflicts … because of them we are able to live in a free society that even our most desperate enemies admire.”
Many sang along as the high school band played the National Anthem, followed by Second Selectman David Clune who read a Memorial Day proclamation.
Newton then introduced Ongley, who served aboard a troopship based in New Caledonia. Among the conflicts he was involved in was the battle of Okinawa, where his ship was under fire by Japanese suicide pilots. For his service he was awarded three battle stars. He received a hearty applause following a listing of his military accomplishments.
Moore, who is the adjutant of Post 86, spoke about the post’s namesake, James Bennett Whipple, a Marine from Wilton who died in battle in France 100 years ago at the age of 25. “He never had a chance to fulfill any dreams he may have had,” he said.
Thirty-two nations participated in World War I, which claimed 8.5 million military service members. Of those, 126,000 were American men and women.
Whipple escaped death when his unit was gassed in April 1918, after which he spent a month in a military hospital recovering. He returned to duty and in the course of carrying a message to headquarters during the battle of Chateau Thierry, he was killed on June 3 of that year and is buried in the American cemetery at Aisne-Marne in Belleau, France.
“It is to men and women like James Bennett Whipple, who made the ultimate sacrifice, that we enjoy the freedoms we have today,” Moore said.
Wilton High School student Hannah Mikita sang America the Beautiful and God Bless America. In between, retired Navy Reserve Commander Jeff Turner read the names of Wilton veterans who have died since last Memorial Day, as compiled by Judd Mott:
- Demetrio M. Arnone Jr. — Marine Corps
- Richard Cox — Army
- Andrew S. Eldredge — Army
- Edward “Ned” Greene — Air Force
- Donald E. Heibeck Sr. — Army
- Karl Heuglin Jr. — Army
- Mary J. Kittredge Hogan — Air Force
- Henry Horwitz — Air Force
- Edward R. Hyde — Air Force
- Jay William Kenefic — Army
- John R. Lawrence — Marine Corps
- Ernest Loser — Army
- Charles Micha — Navy
- William G. Moore — Navy
- George R. Olexo — Army Air Force
- Elizabeth I Quigley — Army
- Daniel Schiro — Navy
- Peter C. Schmitt Sr. — Army
- Ivan Spangenberg III — Navy
- Thomas L. Tompson — Army
- Harry Topalian — Army
- Mort Walker — Army
The benediction was given by the Rev. Shannon White of Wilton Presbyterian Church, who invited people to call out the names of those dear to them who had died in battle and then those who were still serving in the military.
“For those who gave their lives either in battle or back at home when the wounds suffered were too great to bear, we honor them,” she said. “For those who served away from the front lines of action but had to leave loved ones behind, we honor them. For those who still bear the scars from former conflicts, may healing and peace continue. For those serving on this very day, may they feel abiding grace and deep love by the one who created them.”
She continued, “Even though we can’t quite see it, we are to live, work, speak, dream our way toward a day that which may almost be now. To envision a time when war will be no more. When there will be no more need to protect ourselves against one another. Human being against human being, family against family, city against city, region against region, country against country. Help us to envision a time when the lion lies down with the lamb and swords will be transformed into plows and spears into tools to harvest food enough for all.”
The half-hour ceremony concluded with Drew Kennedy playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, a gun salute by Wilton police officers, taps, and the raising of the flag.
Remembering Andrew Eldredge
Among those at the ceremony were Stephen and Yoshie Eldredge, whose son Andrew died last August at the age of 38.
A Wilton High School graduate in the Class of 1997, Andrew was an Army captain who served in Afghanistan with the Stryker Brigade in the Helmand Province and in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was also an Army Ranger. He served from 2005 to 2015.
“The service was beautiful. I wish the whole town would come up and experience it,” said Yoshie, who clutched a photo of her son. “It was done with such respect and dignity. It brought to life the past and goodness of this country.”
As a native of Japan, who is now a U.S. citizen, she said recalling this country’s conflict with the country of her birth was painful, “but now we are together as a nation.”
With their son gone, “the emotions are so deep, every word meant so much. I am so glad we are here.”
She said Andrew would email and text them from overseas, telling them “how awful” the war was. “He lost men,” she said. “He tore himself up when anyone died.”
At one point, “a bullet came right in front of him,” and although he survived, “his best friend died in his arms.”
Andrew suffered PTSD, she said, “and one day he just passed away.”