Greenwich marks Veterans Day with ceremony, parade

As a little more than a hundred Greenwich residents gathered Sunday morning to mark Veterans Day by the town’s War Memorial on Greenwich Avenue, the crowd was made up of far more civilians than veterans.

But that has been a frequent occurrence in the years this ceremony has taken place, and it can also provide an opportunity. One of the major topics of the annual ceremony, which was led by American Legion Post 29 Cmdr. Christopher Hughes, a Marine veteran of the Gulf War, was about the impact of veterans on our lives and the examples they set for others to follow.

 

“A citizen pledges an oath and they learn about values like honor and courage and commitment,” Mr. Hughes said. “Though it seems clear they must have brought those values with them to begin with. On this special day, I am reminded that our service people provide daily examples of selflessness that lift our nation up to reach its highest ideals. What is it about the sight of a young private hurrying through an airport in uniform that inspires such respect? We feel pride when we catch a news report about our brave men and women providing humanitarian aid both here and abroad. Our hearts swell when doing a parade of veterans who secured our right to celebrate in freedom and in peace. And is there anyone among us immune to the sight of a flag-covered casket on a final trip home?”

Veterans, including Chief of Police James Heavey, and the Greenwich Police Department’s Honor Guard, formed a backdrop for the ceremony holding American flags aloft. And, as tradition, an empty chair was front and center with a flag draped over it to represent soldiers still classified as prisoners of war and missing in action. Mr. Hughes said this was to show that they would never be forgotten and that no one would rest until they were returned home.

The American flag, which Mr. Hughes called “the greatest symbol of freedom the world has ever known” was raised outside of the memorial by the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich’s Honor Guard. But before they could do that, the flag was formally presented to them by representatives from the United States Marine Corps. Mr. Hughes noted that in addition to Veterans Day, the Corps had also just marked a significant day when it celebrated its 237th birthday on Saturday.

“On Nov. 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress authorized the establishment of a corps of Marines,” Mr. Hughes said. “They have distinguished themselves ever since as the world’s finest fighting force.”

The impact of the Marine Corps and veterans on people’s everyday lives was elaborated by state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District), who was the guest speaker for the ceremony. Mr. Camillo thanked all the veterans for their selfless service, but focused on one in particular, his father, Al, a town native who entered the Marines and served as a drill instructor. While joking that “it goes without saying I was brought up a certain way,” Mr. Camillo spoke of the example his father set for his kids and the community, especially after losing his wife and his daughter within the space of one year.

“In the Marine Corps he learned respect, responsibility, loyalty, a sense of fairness and justice, and the concept of team and not the individual,” Mr. Camillo said.

Mr. Camillo told a story his father had told him about being in the Marine Corps in Albany, Ga., just two years after President Harry Truman had desegregated the Armed Services. His father and two friends, one of whom was black, were on a bus and the driver tried to throw his friend off.

“My father got up to defend him and he said the result was about a seven-mile walk,” Mr. Camillo said. “But he took that with him the rest of his life. He wasn’t one to protest or make a lot of noise. He just lived his life quietly and led through example. And one night, when I was about 9 or 10, we were eating at the old Playland Tavern Restaurant in Port Chester, which was owned by my father’s friend Mike. Two kids walked in. One had a full meal and a soda and the other one had no meal and a glass of water. I remember my father watching them and then disappearing. He came back and about 10 minutes later that kid had a meal. My father never brought it up again, but I always remembered it because he brought those ideals, which is part Chickahominy and part being a Marine Corps veteran, to his actions.”

In addition to Mr. Camillo, state Rep. Lile Gibbons (R-150th District) was on hand to present the American Legion Post 29’s Young Person of the Year award. This is typically handled by state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District) and Erf Porter, who have been driving forces behind Boys and Girls State in Connecticut, but this year Ms. Gibbons and Tom Byrne, moderator of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting, pinch-hit for them and presented the awards to Greenwich High School’s Jonathan Muhlrad and Mary Harrigan.

Mr. Byrne credited Jonathan for all he does, including being a student athlete and serving as sports editor for Greenwich High School’s The Beak and treasurer of student government while also being co-president of the GHS Israel Club and founder of Chabad of Greenwich’s Teen Volunteer Group. Jonathan also had served as an intern in the first selectman’s office and to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Mr. Byrne said in all of this and in Boys State he had demonstrated “extraordinary leadership and citizenship skills.”

Ms. Gibbons talked about Mary’s “outstanding” work as a student athlete at GHS, including being a Social Studies Distinguished Scholar and being honored for her community service, including volunteering at Greenwich Hospital and being a tutor in math, chemistry and French for her fellow students and an active participant in discussing the issues brought up by books shared by the community as part of Greenwich Reads.

“She brings respect and honor to our community, to Greenwich High School and to her family,” Ms. Gibbons said.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District), First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman David Theis also attended, as did veterans from wars as far back as World War II and the Korean War as well as more recent conflicts. On behalf of the town, Mr. Tesei thanked all of them for what they had done.

“This past week we had the opportunity to cast our ballots in a democratic election, and all too often perhaps we take that right for granted,” Mr. Tesei said. “Today we should reflect and say thank you to the men and women who gave us that right through their sacrifice and service as well as those who are currently serving. Their sacrifice and service to our nation right now is them giving their all for us.”

Another anniversary was marked by Mr. Hughes, who reminded those in attendance that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the unveiling of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C., which as a simple black wall with the names of those killed in action carved into it is regarded as one of the most moving memorials in the world.

“For anyone who has been there, it is truly a moving experience,” Mr. Hughes said. “And for those who have not, I strongly encourage that you take a trip someday. Your passion and patriotism can only be strengthened by this experience.”

Mr. Hughes then asked any Vietnam veterans in the crowd, which included Sgt. Craig Connolly, who helped lay the ceremonial wreath on the memorial with Marine Sgt. Joseph Bryie, to stand up and be applauded for their service.

In summing up his remarks, Mr. Camillo paraphrased President John Kennedy.

“He said the greatest way to say thanks to a veteran is to not just utter the words, but to live them,” Mr. Camillo said. “To the veterans here today, thanks for wearing the uniform, being on the battlefield and shaping the society we live in today.”

 

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All photos of the annual ceremony as well as the Byram Veterans Parade were taken by Post photographer John Ferris Robben.

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