Navy vet will be parade grand marshal

Former Wilton resident Vincent Von Zwehl went into the Navy wanting to be a pilot, but things didn’t turn out quite that way. One thing is for sure — he will lead the Wilton Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 29, as this year’s grand marshal.

Von Zwehl, who lived in Wilton for 12 years before moving to Fairfield 10 years ago, has been a member of Wilton’s American Legion Post 86 for 15 or more years and served in the Navy 66 years ago.

In 1951, Von Zwehl joined the Navy as a reservist and was stationed at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va.

“I did very well on the test going in and they said I could be anything I wanted,” he said, “so I said I wanted to be a pilot.”

However, there were no openings for pilots at the time, and Von Zwehl was told he would be put on a list and contacted in a year — but he still needed a job.

“I asked, ‘How can I get the third-class petty officer’s crow on my shoulder the fastest way?’ and they said, ‘Well, that’s easy — diesel engine mechanic,’” said Von Zwehl, “and that’s what I became.”

Von Zwehl said he did very well in diesel mechanic school and picked a ship that had 1,000 marines on it.

“We had 28 diesel engine mechanics in our group, and we had 28 landing barges on the ship that we used to take the marines and put them on land,” he said.

“We also had an admiral on board and fortunately, by dumb luck, I became the admiral’s engineer, and that’s what I did most of the time while I was serving as a diesel engine mechanic.”

Von Zwehl said he was later contacted about the pilot opportunity, but turned it down.

“They told me I would have to give six years more from that point on,” he said, “and my dad had started a business and he wanted me to come and work in the business.”

Von Zwehl served in the Navy until 1953.

Memorial Day parade

Von Zwehl said he isn’t exactly sure why he’s been chosen to be this year’s grand marshal, but suspects it’s because he and his wife of 20 years “do various things” for American Legion Post 86.

Von Zwehl said he has participated in Wilton’s Memorial Day parade “every year,” and is “a little nervous” to be grand marshal.

“I’m 84 years old and at 84, difficult things don’t come easy,” he said.

Two years ago, Von Zwehl said, he rode in a Jeep during the parade because with two artificial knees, walking several miles is challenging.

Fortunately, Von Zwehl said, he has been told his responsibility as grand marshal is simply to “ride and wave at everybody.”

Von Zwehl said he is looking forward to the parade because he enjoys being a veteran, and likes “the appreciation the public gives to veterans.”

“Memorial Day is a remembrance of the men and women who have died serving our country, and also the ones who didn’t die,” he said. “It’s a sad day, but it’s also a happy day.”