Memorial Day: Veterans honor their fallen brethren

Despite soggy conditions, an enthusiastic crowd turned out for Wilton’s Memorial Day parade on Monday as the town honored its fallen heroes.

Grand Marshal Vincent Von Zwehle, a member of American Legion Post 86, waved from a convertible and keynote speaker Lt. Robert Kluk rode in an antique Ford.

An honor guard led the marchers that included veterans, nearly a dozen bagpipers, members of local clubs and organizations as well as Scouts, Little Leaguers, and the Wilton High School Band.

The parade made its way more than a mile from River Road to Old Ridgefield Road, Center Street, and up Ridgefield Road to Hillside Cemetery. There, the Rev. Anne Coffman of Wilton Congregational Church gave the invocation, a wreath was laid, and Kluk spoke.

“For those of you who may not know me, I have been a member of the Wilton Police Department for just over 18 years and I am currently a lieutenant,” he said by way of introduction. “This is a different experience for me this year, as in many previous years I marched in the parade as a member of the Police Department Honor Guard. Always attending the memorial ceremony at the cemetery and firing the gun salute on the top of the hill after taps.

“I spent four years in the United States Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995 stationed in Camp Lejeune, N.C. I am considered a veteran from the first Gulf War and from Uphold Freedom during the invasion of Haiti in 1994. I have also spent time on the USS Wasp and the USS Shreveport, which are U.S. Navy amphibious warfare ships, during operations in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.

“Memorial Day has always been a very special day to me because of the pride I feel having been a member of the U.S. military. I joined the Marine Corps when I was only 17 years old but I had to wait until I graduated from high school to attend boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. While at boot camp, they drilled into us all the history of the Marine Corps and what it meant to be a United States Marine. We were told of the sacrifices that were made by the marines that came before us as they served in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to the still, ongoing war on terrorism.

“The history that was given to us made me feel a great deal of honor to serve my country as a United States marine, and to never forget the courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity — the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.

“As we stand here today, we look around and see all the American flags that adorn the graves of the veterans that are buried here. One in particular is that of PFC Nicholas Madaras, which is not far from where I stand. PFC Madaras gave his life in service for his country in Iraq on Sept. 3, 2006, when he was killed by a roadside bomb near the town of Baqubah. Although I never met Nick, it was a great privilege to be part of the Department Honor Guard that helped stand guard over Nick at Our Lady of Fatima Church before he was laid to rest. Today we are here to honor Nick and all those fallen heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage, their dedication, and to say thank you for their sacrifices.  

“I would like to acknowledge all of the veterans who have joined us today by asking them to stand. Seeing all these veterans and those who are here only in spirit, you can’t help but feel inspired by the enormity of what their sacrifices have meant to us, our country and the freedoms we enjoy. I wanted to say thank you for answering the call to duty. You have made our armed forces the best in the world.

“I would also be remiss if we did not say thank you to the families of those who have served our country and those that still serve. Behind every serviceman and servicewoman, there is a family that supports them while they are gone and mourns them when they don’t come home. Without their support our men and women in uniform would not be able to do what they do. Thank you.

“I will leave you with a quote from an unknown author. “Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died to protect it.”  May we always remember our fallen heroes and the immense sacrifices they have made to our great nation.  

“Thank you for attending, God bless you and your families, God bless our troops, and God bless America.”

Click here for pictures from Wilton's 2017 Memorial Day parade.