It was a picture-perfect day — and not just because of the blue sky weather — for Wilton’s Memorial Day parade and remembrance ceremony. Crowds lined the streets waving flags as marchers and musicians passed by, but as spectators began calling out to marchers and vice versa, Wilton’s small-town roots were on full display at one of the year’s most popular community events.
A color guard from American Legion Post 86 led the parade with dignitaries in open cars followed by hundreds of participants including veterans, students, scouts, clubs, civic organizations, police, fire, EMS, and local businesses. Members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) were out in force directing traffic and closing roads.
Among the dignitaries in the parade was grand marshal Gordon Nugent, one of Wilton’s last surviving World War II veterans. Nugent served in the Navy and was stationed in Washington, D.C.
He was followed by guest speaker Sean Powers, an Army veteran who flew helicopters in Central America during the conflict between the Sandinistas and Contras in Nicaragua, in Honduras and Guatemala.
Scores of marchers and spectators made their way up the hill along Ridgefield Road, past the Wilton Congregational Church where a student band played patriotic songs, to Hillside Cemetery, where a remembrance ceremony was opened with a cannon salute, courtesy of the Wilton Historical Society.
Following a proclamation from First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice — as read by Second Selectman David Clune — parade chairman Ray Tobiassen welcomed the crowd and introduced some of the VIPs in the audience including Nugent, who he described as a non-swimmer who joined the Navy, drawing a laugh from the crowd. He also introduced D-Day veteran Trygve Hanson, who served the Allied Forces as a member of the Norwegian Navy. At age 97, Hanson is Wilton’s oldest veteran.
Although he does not live in Wilton, guest speaker Sean Powers explained his brother Michael does and he was particularly interested in how the community received the parade and its veterans. He had nothing but praise for the town and its people.
“In the parade I saw what America is,” he said. “This is a beautiful town. You guys are blessed. … When you see families out there, young children, everyone’s waving a flag, clapping, standing on the side of the road. And you came up these hills in this weather — God bless you all.”
“Memorial Day is for those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said, quoting “there is no greater gift a man can give than to give his life for his brother.” This place is full of those people. I know several of them that did it. They left, and when they came back they were in in a box, and we put them in the ground.”
“That’s the greatest gift anybody can give, and they don’t even know you, but they gave that gift to you,” he said.
Although we honor the dead on this day, Powers went on to speak of the living. He asked the crowd to remember the number 22. After recounting his career in the New York Police Department, where he worked both as a plainclothes officer in northern Manhattan and a helicopter pilot in the aviation unit, he came back to that number. Twenty-two is the number of veterans who commit suicide every day.
“They come back from these wars, they’re dead men walking, they just don’t know it,” he said. It is only afterwards, “the demons come out.”
He implored his listeners, if they ever know a veteran who is having difficulties, to call for help. “They may hate you today,” he said, but he promised eventually, “they will thank you.”
To those who would contribute to veterans’ charities, he suggested “charity starts at home,” and suggested they help a local veteran by paying for a meal, groceries, or in some other way.
He left the audience with a cheer he and his military buddies came up with: “To us, to those like us, to those who went before us, and to those who are coming after us, but most importantly, to those who support us.”
Wreath and remembrance
Following America the Beautiful, sung by Hannah Mikita of Wilton High School, Tobiassen introduced the ceremonial laying of the wreath.
“The gift of flowers at a memorial site is a ritual understood in every culture,” Tobiassen said. “The flowers represent both the beauty and brevity of life in a formal ceremony like this. The laying of a wereath pays tribute to individuals and to commemorate special events.”
Veterans Bing Ventres and Jeff Turner laid a wreath to honor Nicholas Maderas of Wilton, who lost his life in the War with Iraq, and all of the fallen veterans. Turner then read the names of the Wilton veterans who died since last Memorial Day:
- James Costello, Navy.
- Ercole Colella, Air Force.
- Don Davidson, Navy.
- Aurther Fuller Sr., Marines.
- Blake Greenlee, Marines.
- George Heibeck, Army.
- William Hill, Army.
- Richard Husta, Navy.
- Edward Hyde, Air Force.
- Charlie Jacob, Marines.
- Robert Keiler, Army.
- Don Marquardt, Air Force.
- H. Edward Miche Jr., Army.
- Richard Morron, Navy.
- Phillip Rodgers, Army.
- William Schofield, Navy.
- J. Kelson Weber, Navy.
- Anthony Wiggins, Air Force.
- Paul Wright, Coast Guard.
- Vinnie Von Zwehl, Navy.