Veterans pay tribute to their comrades

Jeannette Ross photos

Near freezing temperatures did not deter about 30 veterans from marching through Wilton Center on Nov. 11 to the Veterans Memorial Green, where about the same number of civilians greeted them for a Veterans Day ceremony.

Under Saturday’s crisp blue sky several speakers recalled the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces in service to their country. The parade and ceremony were arranged by American Legion Post 86 and Commander Don Hazzard, a veteran of the Vietnam War, led the morning’s program.

Post chaplain Frank Dunn opened the ceremony with a prayer asking for peace and tranquility to be ushered into “our world of confusion and doubt.”

He prayed that “out of our determination and endeavor there may emerge a better world, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to preserving the individual rights and dignity of man, a world of tolerance and justice …”

Selectman David Clune, on behalf of First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, read a proclamation that acknowledged veterans “from all walks of life, many of whom have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America” and urged their countrymen to dedicate themselves “to the goal of an enduring peace so that their efforts should not have been in vain.”

Speaking as a daughter and wife of a veteran, state Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) said, “I am here to tell you the State of Connecticut honors you, supports you, and we’re so privileged because each and every one of you have signed up and made a contract with every citizen of this country to sacrifice everything up to and including their life. And there’s no greater commitment or sacrifice anyone can do.”

Boucher recalled that when she was dating her husband Bud it was the height of the Vietnam War era and he, along with other veterans at that time, were urged not to wear their uniforms in public because of the hostile reactions many were subject to by Americans opposed to the war. For many years he, like other veterans, kept his service hidden, she said. That national sentiment began to change in the 1990s as yellow ribbons sprang up in honor of troops serving in the Gulf War and later after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Times really changed and they changed for the better in the ways in which the public supported our veterans,” Boucher said.

“I’m so glad that he and others that served during that time proudly are involved and committed in their communities so they can be involved and a model for our schoolchildren here.”

Picking up on that theme, Hazzard, a former heavy equipment operator with the Navy Seabees, said, “Fifty years ago today gratitude was in short supply among many segments of the American public. Heroes returned from Vietnam and were discouraged from wearing their uniforms in public places due to the disrespectful actions of some protestors and others who disagreed with the policies set by our elected officials.

“Too often the protesters failed to realize that it was not the campus agitator who secured our First Amendment rights, it was the military veteran. Peacetime or wartime, all veterans have taken an oath indicating they were willing to offer their lives to defend our constitution and our country. Oftentimes it is the intimidating sight of an Army Ranger team, a Navy destroyer, an Air Force fighter jet, Marine Corps artillery, or a Coast Guard cutter that deters an enemy from harming us.

“Most veterans will agree that the best wars are the ones that are never fought,” he continued. “The soldier above all prays for peace for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But when war is necessary, America’s fighting men and women always come forward and put their country first.”

He went on to say, to service members war is not “a mere history lesson or a subject of a book. For them, the battle continues long after the firing stops and the return home is complete. … We need to remember a veteran is someone who at one point wrote a blank check payable to the USA for an amount up to and including their life.”

The ceremony was punctuated by the National Anthem, sung by Wilton High School sophomore Madeline Pennino and Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes by Drew Kennedy. It concluded with the playing of taps by Conor Bendett, a freshman at Wilton High School.