When organizers of this year’s Wilton Memorial Day parade selected World War II U. S. Navy veteran George Ongley to be grand marshal, they told him it was not a speaking role, just leading the parade and waving to the crowd.

But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say about the importance of Memorial Day.

On the contrary, Ongley, 92, said during an interview at his apartment in Hamden’s Whitney Center, where he moved two months ago after having lived in Wilton six decades, he would like to see more understanding for military veterans.

“You know, a lot of our homeless people in the U.S. are military veterans. That is not right,” Ongley said thoughtfully.

Veterans of all wars have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, but the malady is only recognized and talked about in recent years. He knows that veterans of wars before Vietnam, before the Middle East, have had their share of it, too.

“I would wake up in the middle of the night with a bad dream,”  he said, recalling his experiences in WWII serving aboard a Naval fleet tugboat, whose jobs included pulling stuck landing crafts off Pacific beaches under fire from the Japanese.

A Japanese plane even came within 20 feet of his ship’s port side one day. He still remembers the enemy pilot’s face.

“I wrote a play about my experiences,” Ongley said, offering that the name of the play is Dreams, runs about 15 minutes, and he has it on audiotape. He said one of his children is producing an iTunes podcast with the script.

People today need to be more understanding of veterans and what they’ve been through, he said. “People don’t know what the hell war really is,” he said.

The parade Monday, May 28, starts at 21 River Road with Grand Marshal Ongley leading the procession. It continues up Ridgefield Road past the Wilton Congregational Church to Hillside Cemetery where the Rev. Shanon White will give the invocation, followed by keynote speaker Tom Moore, adjutant of American Legion Post 86. The names of Wilton veterans who have died this past year will be read with a bell tolled for each name.

Remembering those who have died is something Ongley has been doing since he was a boy, growing up in Berkley, Mich.

“My father would bring me to the cemetery to put flowers and flags on the graves,” he said of his dad, who was a World War I Army medic veteran. His mother, too, served in the war, as a nurse.

“They called it Decoration Day in those days,” he said.

Ongley is a graduate of Western Michigan University and holds an MBA from the University of Bridgeport. He is a former IBM man, having worked in finance and systems analysis.

He moved to Wilton in 1965 and raised four children. He now has 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

He enjoys time with his dog, a beagle mix named Dilly, and reading books. The latest book he is reading is about trees. He also likes to read about birds.
“In my younger years I would go out birding, taking walks to see the birds,” he said.

His thoughts about Memorial Day are universal.

“Veterans don’t get the appreciation they deserve,” he said.