Wilton names Route 106 after one of its 'greatest treasures'


Kendra Baker photos
After being posthumously awarded the Croix de Chevalier dans l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government last year, late Wiltonian and World War II veteran Charles M. Baffo was honored by more than 30 people who gathered inside Old Town Hall on Thursday, Oct. 1, to celebrate the naming of Route 106 in Wilton in his honor.
“Wilton is a town full of treasures and our greatest treasures are our people,” state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) said after Wilton High School senior Griffin King opened the 11 a.m. ceremony by singing the national anthem.
Listen to Griffin's performance here.
“We have many who are generous with their time and their contributions, but some of the most amazing things have been done by people who are the most inconspicuous and most unobtrusive.”
Lavielle said those who experienced World War II and contributed to the war effort “were part of the generation that we call ‘The Greatest Generation’ for many reasons.”
One of those reasons, she said, is because “they shared the qualities of modesty and discretion — and one of those veterans was Charles Baffo.”
“He lived a relatively quiet life. He married, lived for 50 years in Wilton, raised four daughters here, and was a successful architect,” said Lavielle, “and he did extraordinary things and he never spoke
about them.”

Opening up


Don Hazzard, commander of Legion Post 86 in Wilton, said it’s “very hard” for many war veterans to openly share their experiences.
“I think that most of us feel no one except other veterans will understand,” said Hazzard, “so some of us share with each other and some of us with no one.”
Up until he met Jean-Pierre Lavielle, Baffo hadn’t even shared his war experience with his family, said his daughter, Ruthann Walsh.
“Jean-Pierre performed some kind of miracle when he met my father in July of 2014 — just three months before my father passed away,” said Walsh, who still lives in Wilton.
“My father never told us anything about what happened to him during World War II, but Jean-Pierre and my father formed an intricate friendship and my father told Jean-Peirre everything.”
Walsh said it’s because of Jean-Pierre, who applied for the Légion d’Honneur on Baffo’s behalf, that the French government posthumously awarded the medal to her father, who died on Oct. 17, 2014, at the age of 92.
Jean-Pierre said after learning about the French government’s Légion d’Honneur program, he decided to look for surviving World War II veterans in Fairfield County.
“I found 17 of them. I filed six applications for the Légion d’Honneur, and Charles got one,” said Jean-Pierre.
“That was very special because we became friends — he could have been my father, easily, and he did something unique that nobody ever knew.”
Through the “many, many times” he met with Baffo, Jean-Pierre said, he collected “all this information” about his war experience.

Baffo’s story


Baffo was born and raised in New York City and graduated from Amityville High School in June 1941. Six months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, on Dec. 7.
In 1942, instead of going to college, Baffo decided to enlist — “first in the Army and then transitioned into the Air Force,” said Jean-Pierre.
In 1944, Baffo was assigned to the 490th Bombardment Group and learned to fly both the B-24 and B-17 Flying Fortress with the 8th Air Force.
In early September 1944, Baffo and his crew were on their way to central Germany on a bombing mission when their B-24, “Lizzy Belle,” was hit by German fire.
“She lost one engine and was losing fuel — shrapnel went through the fuel tanks,” said Jean-Pierre.
“[Baffo] called up his leader and told him, ‘I have to abort the mission — I have to go back,’ so he [headed] back and he realized he didn’t have enough fuel to make the trip.”
Baffo, who was flying over an area of France near the Belgium border at the time, had only one choice — to crash-land.
“He had to attempt an emergency landing and the instructions were very clear,” said Jean-Pierre. “They were told, ‘If you have to crash-land, drop your bombs first.’”
Jean-Pierre said Baffo, who was 20 years old at the time, saw that he was flying over a very densely populated area and refused to drop the bombs there because he knew “he’d kill hundreds of thousands of people.”
“He found a piece of land near Brussels, which was OK, and he knew he had one attempt — not two — just one,” said Jean-Pierre, to land the plane with 6,000 pounds of ordnance onboard.
Baffo, who was a “very skilled pilot,” said Jean-Pierre, managed to safely land the plane.

Recognition


Isabelle Evelein, honorary consul of France, said she attended the ceremony to express France’s gratitude to Baffo “and all the veterans who served in World War II and fought for France’s ideals of equality and liberty.”
The Légion d’Honneur is “the highest recognition you can get in France,” said Evelein, and a way of thanking “all those men and women … who have served France and have demonstrated courage and bravery … in their service to France.”
“This medal should be a source of great pride for Mr. Baffo’s family,” she said.
Evelein said another Wilton World War II veteran, Trygve Hansen, will also be receiving the Légion d’Honneur.
Gail Lavielle said although World War II may seem to be in the distant past for some, “it is very much part of our recent history.”
“It’s fitting to remember him and, at the same time, remember all of those of that generation who literally saved the world. They gave us a future — a safe future and world with relative certainty for many years,” she said.
“We mustn’t forget the tremendously significant chapter in our history, and I’m hoping that with this dedication of Route 106, Mr. Baffo’s memory, and the memory of those who fought alongside him for all of us, will stay with us here in Wilton for all time.”
Although he never knew Baffo, Hazzard said, “I know that if he were with us today, he would be honored to have this wonderful tribute honoring not only himself but all of his brothers and sisters of World War II.”
Lavielle said the Department of Transportation told her the “Air Force First Lieutenant Charles M. Baffo Memorial Highway” signs have been put up on both ends of Route 106 in Wilton.
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