Wilton holds Memorial Day tribute despite pandemic
WILTON — Although it is usually observed with a parade, trips to the beach or backyard barbecues, Memorial Day is, at its heart, a solemn holiday.
And so, May 25 was marked in Wilton by a short service at the Veterans Memorial Green, the granite pillars standing in silent tribute to the 86 Wiltonians who gave their lives in service to this country, from its early beginnings forward.
So said American Legion Post 86 Commander Bill Glass in his remarks.
“Though current events have placed many restrictions and challenges on our observance, we are still gathering here today to honor the memory of the over 1,000,000 American servicemen and women, including 86 from Wilton, who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country,” he said.
He began by offering a prayer “for those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom. May their memories be eternal and their sacrifices never forgotten. And we also pray for their families, and ask for God’s comfort and blessings to fill their homes.”
Glass told how Gen. John Logan was instrumental in establishing a national day of remembrance for soldiers who died in the Civil War. Logan was a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans group of former Union soldiers. He issued an order on March 5, 1868, that the graves of those who died in defense of the country should be decorated with flowers. Hence, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
“Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms,” Logan wrote.
The ceremony closed with Taps, played by Wilton High School music teacher and band leader Nicholas Loafman.
Here, the graves of Wilton veterans are marked not with flowers but with American flags. Flags were placed earlier this month by American Legion members and Air Force veterans Bing Ventres and Judd Mott.
On May 23, American Legion members, with the assistance of members of the Community Emergency Response Team, placed additional flags at Hillside Cemetery. In all, about 400 flags mark the graves of Wilton veterans.
Participating Saturday were American Legion Post 86 members Bill Glass, Paul Niche, and Sean McNeil.
CERT members were Jack Majesky, Tom Gunther, Chris and Tina Gardner, Bill Rafferty, Barbara Martin, Marsha McLaughlin, and Pat Russio.
Also helping out was Wilton resident Bill Channing.
In addition, Patrick and Mary Russo donated $250 to the post for the American flags placed on the graves, in memory of their 12 family members who are veterans.
Veterans we lost
One segment of the Memorial Day observance usually held at Hillside Cemetery is the reading of the names of those Wilton veterans who have died since the previous holiday. Those names were read in a video tribute produced by the Wilton Parade Committee:
Charles Anderson, Air Force.
Harold Barton, Navy.
Ernest Bevilacqua, Navy.
Thomas Bodine, Army.
Robert Burns, Navy.
David Close, Army.
James Fleishell, Coast Guard.
Ray Golterman, Navy.
Peter Kaskell, Army.
Martin Kay, Army.
Wayne Kohman, Navy.
Stanley Leibowitz, Army.
Harlan Murray, Army Air Corps.
Bernice Paul, Army.
James Ralph, Army.
Carl Sell, Army.
Faye Stilley, Coast Guard.
Frederick Whipple, Army.
Albert Wood, Army Air Corps.
Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., 5 May 1868
GENERAL ORDERS No. 11
I. The 30th day of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remains in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
By Command of -
John A. Logan, Commander in Chief