Paying tribute to my heroes

Greenwich-Voices-von-KeyserlingMonday, May 28, was one of those perfect summer days in Greenwich with deep blue skies, shimmering green leaves, bright sun, and enough breeze to make our flag dance. And I began my annual Memorial Day pilgrimage to honor my heroes who have given themselves so that my family can live in peace and comfort.

It was a day of graves and salutes; of pride, sorrow, and prayer; of community celebrating the fruits of our stalwarts’ sacrifice. At 8 a.m. sharp, The Indian Harbor Yacht Club hosted the seaside ceremony recognizing and remembering our armed service members. They were all there with us — those who had gone on before, those who had already stepped back from the line, and those who are and will serve.

The yacht club deserves praise for its singular contribution to such a respectful and militarily precise service. The tone is always understated and reserved, just perfect for straining a grown man’s composure, and swelling our pride in those who serve. There I met my old neighbor whose son, Col. Jonathan Cameron, just received the Bronze Star, after declining it twice. I knew him when he was a cheeky little Cos Cob kid. My nephew spent time with him in Kuwait while serving on those two-week camping trips that no one is supposed to know about.

At 10, the Old Greenwich Parade stepped off up Sound Beach Avenue through the Village to Binney Park. I love this parade. It’s a prototypical Norman Rockwell celebration of American community with kids on decorated bicycles, munchkins being pulled in bunting and flag-festooned red wagons, dogs wagging everywhere, little girls in summer dresses and bright bows in their hair, and everyone dressed in their finest, crisp, clean and eager to mix with their neighbors.

All the politicians strutted-strolled behind the stately, police honor guard, a pipe band skirling, tons of Cub Scouts and Brownies, the garden club ladies beflowered, the cadets, the volunteer firemen, then the Sound Beach Brass Band (good to see Tom Gorin back puffing on his sax). But the best treat was seeing Capt. Sam Kies back from a long career in the Army, safe and sound. Our church and others have been praying for his safe return. And his mother, local icon Stephanie Kies, was so ecstatic that her singing voice sounds even better, and she was singing about his return.

At Binney Park, the commemorative ceremony was perfectly situated on the green grass by the pond. Our local Navy Lt. Charles Baker, “a boat driver,” he says, gave an excellent speech about the Navy ironworker who sacrificed himself to vicious torture and death at the hands of terrorist plane hijackers, never breaking and protecting all the surviving passengers.

All around us were active and veteran servicemen and servicewomen. Some were old and bowed with age, some young and vigorous in life and families. Some were limping from old wounds, physical and private. Many of these were quietly standing in the fringe, silent and solitary. Then there were the families of the living and the sacrificed. One could not know that they were in hallowed company. They believe in service above self and walk the walk of that belief.

Sprinkled among the gathering were civic leaders and town officers who may not have served in uniform. And, like myself, feel a deep debt and obligation to all our uniformed citizens who make it possible to have a local government of free will.

Being from the Vietnam Era, we knew friends and buddies who were “tunnel rats” and on other mind-twisting assignments. Most of those who returned were forever stamped with a difference, and left much of their normal lives overseas. Like my fellow civic servants, there is a lifelong debt to be paid to them.

It is our duty, honor, and service to insure that what they sacrificed for is cherished, nourished and protected. These are our peacetime patriots, who sacrifice their time and reputations for the greater good. One of these, Dave D’Andrea, is in the middle of a second brutal medical fight. He would appreciate our cards and emails of support, but not telephone calls while he is conserving his indomitable energy.

Like Dave, all our public servants and uniformed heroes need our prayers. But the most important thank-you is supporting our wounded warriors and service families. Let us never forget and always honor what they bought for us all.


Christopher von Keyserling is a Republican and a longtime member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own.

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