Wilton veterans make sure sacrifices are not forgotten

Since Oct. 1, 1920, James B. Whipple Post 86 has been not only an active organization in Wilton, but a reminder of those who have fought and died for their country.

The American Legion post was named after Corporal James Bennett Whipple, the first Wiltonian killed in action during World War I, which began 100 years ago in 1914.

Born in Wilton on Feb. 7, 1893, Cpl. Whipple served with the United States Marine Corps 2nd Marine Division until his death in Belleau Aisne, France, in early June 1918, when he was killed during the Third Battle of the Aisne.

“James and two others were trying to rescue one of their squads when he was hit with shrapnel,” said Post 86 Commander Don Hazzard, who served with the Navy Seabees in Vietnam.

Cpl. Whipple, who is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, was the recipient of numerous awards, including:

  • The Purple Heart.

  • Two Bronze Stars.
  • The WWI Victory Medal.
  • The Aisne Campaign Battle Clasp.
  • The Defensive Sector Battle Clasp.

The Ridgefield Press published an article — “Corporal Whipple First Boy Killed in Action” — on July 16, 1918, about Cpl. Whipple’s death and service.

“Corporal Whipple is the first Wilton boy to give up his life in the great cause for which the Allies are fighting,” The Ridgefield Press article says.

“Mrs. Henry Strauss of South Wilton, mother of the boy, yesterday received formal notification from the War department of the sad fact.”

The article concludes, “That the Wilton spirit would distinguish itself at the front has been confidently asserted and that her first hero should die in the ranks fighting with the famous old organization

which is always first in the fight is cause

for congratulation.”

Post 86

The current home of Post 86, 112 Old Ridgefield Road, was purchased in 1927 by its members, who Cmdr. Hazzard said “donated not only the building materials, but built the building themselves.”

The building was designed by Wilton architect Nelson Breed, and its construction was completed in 1937.

“Today, Post 86 stands on a proud monument to those brave and hardy men,” said Cmdr. Hazzard.

Cmdr. Hazzard has been a Post 86 member since 1982, when he moved to Wilton.

“I am an honorary life member,” he said. “I served as chaplain for many years and graduated to senior vice commander until 2010, at which time became commander.”

Cmdr. Hazzard’s responsibilities include:

  • Supervising the duties of all officers.
  • Budget and fund-raising planning with Post 86 Finance Officer Alex Ruskewich.
  • Setting up calendar events.

Post 86 is currently comprised of 80 members, Cmdr. Hazzard said, who have served at least one day on active duty.

Cmdr. Hazzard said current Post 86 members have served in World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War.

Memorial Day

Cmdr. Hazzard said Post 86 is “active in many endeavors,” including, but not limited to, Kick for Nick, Female Soldier/Forgotten Heroes and, of course, Memorial Day.

Each year, the Post 86 Color Guard leads Wilton’s Memorial Day parade, which is followed by a ceremony and picnic hosted by the post.

Memorial Day is May 26 this year, and Wilton’s annual parade will begin at 10 a.m. at 21 River Road and end at Hillside Cemetery, 165 Ridgefield Road.

Cmdr. Hazzard said the annual Memorial Day parade is “generally the same every year,” and includes the traditions of:

  • Honoring and remembering deceased veterans.
  • Placing flags at every veteran’s grave.

“It takes about two months to plan and prepare for the parade,” said Cmdr. Hazzard.

Wilton’s Memorial Day Parade Committee helps put together the annual festivities and consists of 10 representatives from Post 86, the Wilton Kiwanis Rotary Club and Wilton Congregational Church.

The committee’s president is Ray Tobiassen, a United States Marine Corps veteran.

As in previous years, military men and women will be honored and remembered during Wilton’s Memorial Day celebrations, ensuring that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.