Parade sets new tradition as Greenwich salutes Veterans Day

Residents packed Greenwich Avenue for a parade paying tribute to veterans that led directly to the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the town’s war memorial. Red, white and blue decorated the streets. — John Ferris Robben photo

Residents packed Greenwich Avenue for a parade paying tribute to veterans that led directly to the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the town’s war memorial. Red, white and blue decorated the streets.
— John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich has never been shy about paying tribute to veterans, and this past Monday new traditions met established ones as people marked Veterans Day with both joy and remembrance.

As always, Greenwich held a Veterans Day ceremony on Greenwich Avenue outside the former site of the post office where the town’s war memorial is built. Christopher Hughes, a Marine veteran and commander of the American Legion Post 29 in town, again served as master of ceremonies for an event that cheered the service of past and current soldiers, marked those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and encouraged youth to become more involved in community service.

“There is something unique about Americans, past and present, who have volunteered to serve for the love of country,” Mr. Hughes said. “A citizen pledges an oath and they learn about values like honor, courage and commitment. Though it seems clear at times that they must have brought many of these values with them to begin with. On this special day, I’m reminded that our service members provide daily examples of selflessness that lift our nation up to reach its highest ideals.”

But this year’s ceremony was preceded, for the first time, by a parade down Greenwich Avenue by veterans, their families and supporters from throughout town. Hundreds turned out for the parade, which was put together by the Greenwich Military Covenant of Care, a volunteer organization founded by resident Bruce Winningham that’s dedicated to supporting military families.

Parade draws raves

The parade marched the short distance from the top of Greenwich Avenue to the memorial outside the Havemeyer Building, led by Greenwich Police Department motorcycles. American flags, many of which were handed out during the event but also were put up privately by merchants, were visible throughout the route, and many people came out to watch the parade and record it on their phones.

Once at the memorial, Mr. Winningham had all the veterans there who had seen combat stand up and identify themselves. A few had to be coaxed into doing it.

“One of the great nonsequitors of human life is that the most humble and shy and unself-congratulating human beings are those who served in a war,” Mr. Winningham said. “It’s difficult to assemble them, so let’s give them our applause and thank them for protecting us.”

Veteran Joe Kantorski also took the chance to thank everyone who came out to show their support.

“It’s very important not just to remember us, but all those people who are no longer with us,” Mr. Kantorski said. “The only thing we can really say is thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Estimating the crowd at 500, Mr. Winningham pledged it would be an annual event now.

“It really couldn’t have gone any better,” Mr. Winningham told the Post after the parade. “This response shows that we’re tapping something that’s already there. We didn’t create this spirit, we simply invited it to come out. It’s so gratifying to be able to show that this spirit is there and to see so many veterans standing together, some of them from World War II and didn’t know if anyone from this generation remembered them, some of them from Vietnam who felt ignored when they came home and those who came home from this war but are still struggling and hurting with the memories of it and the knowledge of what others suffered and are reluctant to step forward. All three stood there and were welcomed by the town.

Mr. Winningham was also quick to thank GPD Sgt. John Slusarz and retired Lt. Thomas Keegan for everything they did in taking the idea and making it a reality where they could march in a large group down Greenwich Avenue.

“We had an idea but no idea how to pull it all together,” Mr. Winningham said. “Tom Keegan and John were really the ones that made it something we could commit to. If they hadn’t shown us how it was possible, we wouldn’t have known how to publicize it because we wouldn’t have been sure it could happen. Our police department were the ones that opened the door to this.”

The head of the department’s traffic division, Sgt. Slusarz has plenty of experience with events like this and says they’re easy to do as long as there are “visionaries” like Mr. Winningham to have the idea and mission and push it forward.

“We were just happy to facilitate this,” Sgt. Slusarz said. “I think this was an awesome event.”

‘Marching with heroes’

The parade featured many prominent town officials, including Chief of Police James Heavey, himself a veteran, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz and state Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th), Stephen Walko (R-150th) and Fred Camillo (R-151st) as well as several members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Board of Education. Mr. Marzullo attended even on a special day for himself since Monday was his birthday.

“What a way to celebrate, marching with heroes,” Mr. Marzullo said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Mr. Camillo was one of several people who marched in the parade with a photo of a loved one who served. He carried a framed photo of his late father, Al, who was a Marine Corps drill instructor during the Korean War. Another who did this was Joan Stewart Pratt, who not only carried pictures of her father and uncles but also wore the hat and top from her father’s Air Force uniform.

“It’s important to honor our veterans with respect and gratitude for what they’ve done for our country and allowing us to live the life that we live here,” Ms. Stewart Pratt said. “I feel very grateful to be able to do this. My father passed away when I was only 10 years old and I’m actually getting to know him from letters I found that my grandmother had kept in scrapbooks. I’m getting to know my father as an adult because of letters he wrote while he was in the service to his parents. I’ve not only found the letters, but this uniform, and I wanted to wear it to pay tribute. I feel he’s with me all the time and I wanted to carry the flag in memory of him, my relatives and my husband’s father as well.”

Stefanie Kies, who led the crowd in America the Beautiful and God Bless America, also came specially dressed for the event. She came with a picture of her veteran father, Edward V. Nunes, the dog tags of her husband, Bill Kies, and the jacket of her son, Sam, who is currently serving in the Ranger Brigade at Ft. Benning, Ga.

Remembering veterans

The parade led people right to the 11 a.m. ceremony at the memorial, which has long been the site of the Veterans Day tribute, resulting in increased attendance for the long-running Greenwich tradition. At the ceremony, Mr. Hughes took particular pride in noting that the day before had been the 238th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps and calling out his fellow marines in the crowd. He also took the time to personally thank all the men and women who had served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

But while there were many veterans in attendance, some in full uniform, Mr. Hughes noted that not everyone was there and displayed an empty chair with the POW/MIA flag draped over it, a tradition at all American Legion events.

“This chair symbolizes that they are not forgotten, nor will they ever be forgotten, and that we rededicate ourselves to working to make sure they are all returned home some day,” Mr. Hughes said.

Additionally, there was a 21-gun salute to honor veterans who had been killed in combat and a memorial wreath was placed down.

The ceremony was also a chance to honor Post 29’s Young Persons of the Year, who were welcomed to the podium by Greenwich veteran and American Legion member Erf Porter and Ms. Floren, who work together every year on Connecticut’s Boys and Girls State program. This year’s honor went to Samantha Salkin and Alexandra Small, who were the state’s two representatives from Girls Nation to Washington, the first time that happened from the same school in the same community.

Youths honored

“Samantha Salkin and Alexandra Small represent everything that is truly great about Greenwich, about Connecticut and about America,” Ms. Floren said. “They are products of our excellent public schools. They are smart, respectful, energetic, courteous, patriotic, and civic-minded. They give back to their school and their community each and every day. Our future is in good hands with young leaders like Samantha and Alexandra.”

The award fit in well with the theme of encouraging youth to participate. Mr. Hughes said participating in this event by playing the bugle as a child inspired him to become a marine and noted that the ceremony was attended by the Boy Scouts, the Cub Scouts, the Police Explorers and members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich’s Honor Guard. In his remarks, Mr. Tesei said it was important to see the youth attend and learn “the benefits of American citizenship and taking up the mantle” in local service organizations.

“If we’re going to continue to succeed as a society and as a nation, it’s going to be because these young people have been educated about your values and the sacrifices you, the veterans, have made for all of us,” Mr. Tesei said.

Noting both the ceremony and the parade, Mr. Tesei thanked everyone who had made these events possible and said that the veterans there could “feel the love” from the crowd.

“It is you, the veterans, who have given us the right to vote,” Mr. Tesei said. “It is you, the veterans, who have given us the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here in the wonderful town of Greenwich. And as we go forth over the next 364 days, not just today, let’s all reflect and remember the sacrifices these men and women have made through generations so we can live in one of the nicest and best communities in the United States. We are a free people because of you, the veterans, and that we cannot forget.”

 

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