Wilton salutes its fallen heroes

This year’s Memorial Day parade was cancelled due to rain, but that didn’t stop veterans and community members from gathering together at Wilton Congregational Church, for a ceremony to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Under the clouds, participating veterans assembled outside the sanctuary and proceeded in, led by Drew Kennedy’s bagpipe and a Color Guard.

“‘Salute our Heroes’ is the theme of today’s tribute — a tributed memory of the millions of American service men and women that are no longer with us but are never forgotten,” began master of ceremonies Ray Tobiassen, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and chair of the parade committee.

Tobiassen introduced Wilton Second Selectman Michael Kaelin to read an unofficial proclamation on behalf of the town.

“On behalf of the town, I would like us to remember and give thanks to all of those who have lost their lives in service to this country, especially those from the town of Wilton,” Kaelin said. “It is fitting that their names are etched in stone in the center of our town, so that we never forget the sacrifices that they made for us.”

“We will never forget what they’ve done for us,” he said. “They lost their lives so we could live the lives that we live today, in this great country of ours and in this wonderful town we are so fortunate to live in.”

Tobiassen then introduced World War II Navy veteran James Turnbull, a Wilton resident of 60 years and this year’s grand marshal, and Chris Ladd, a retired Marine Corps attack helicopter pilot who was this year’s speaker. Ladd’s speech can be read in full on page A6.

After Ladd’s keynote address, Tobiassen said, “Laying flowers at a memorial site is a ritual understood in every culture. The flower represents both the beauty and the brevity of life.”

“Wreaths were laid earlier today in front of the town gazebo and the American Legion building. In addition, all the Wilton veterans buried in one of Wilton’s cemeteries were honored this week with flags at their gravesites, thanks to the volunteers from the American Legion,” Tobiassen said.

Veteran Naval Commander Jeff Turner then read the name of each Wilton veteran who died since last Memorial Day. After each name was read, a bell was rung to commemorate the loss.

They were Robert Abbett (Navy), Tom Adams (Air Force), James Billings (Coast Guard), David Bloomer (British Army), David Canary (Army), Robert Cieri Sr. (Army), Arthur Dixon (Air Force), John Healey (Air Force), Fred Herot (Navy), Richard Hill (Army), Harold Howe Jr. (Marines), Donald Marsella (Navy), William McCabe (Navy), Stephen Messelt (Navy), William Middeleer (Air Force), Al Nickel (Air Force), Vincent Nolan (Navy), Robert Prucell (Navy), Russell Voorhis (Army), Dale Walrath (Army), John Warner Jr. (Army), Kenneth Youngquist (Army), and John Zimmerman (Army).

Rev. Steve Kim of Zion’s Hill United Methodist Church led the benediction, but before he began, as a Korean American, he thanked the United States Military for fighting to protect his native country’s liberty.

Praying, Kim said, “Thank you for a day set apart not just for celebration, but also for solemn remembrance as we consider the sacrifices of so many in our military. Even as we remember those who have given their lives in the past, we also think of those whose lives are on the line today. Protect them, encourage them, bring them home safely, soon.”

“This concludes our tribute,” Tobiassen ended. “I want to thank each of you for being here today — for not forgetting the sacrifices of America’s past, and for teaching and encouraging the young members of our community about service to others.

“These are the lessons required to keep this country and this community great places to live. Enjoy the remainder of your Memorial Day; God bless America.”

With that, the Color Guard led the veterans out of the church, to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace,’ played by Kennedy.

The service was interspersed with patriotic standards, with singing led by Wilton High School sophomore Trevor Brown. Members of the Wilton High School Band played Taps on trumpet as well.