Greenwich Honors its Veterans
By Richard Kaufman
Last Saturday, on the 11th day in the 11th month during the 11th hour in unseasonably cold temperatures, the normally bustling Greenwich Avenue fell silent as the community came out to remember all those who have served, and continue to serve, in the United States armed forces.
The Veterans Day Patriotic Walk began around 10:30 a.m., and proceeded down Greenwich Avenue to the World War II and Korean War memorials, located in front of the Havemeyer Building.
The subsequent ceremony featured comments from American Legion Post 29 commander, Peter Lebeau, First Selectman Peter Tesei and state representative, Livvy Floren, who presented two local high school seniors with the American Legion Young Persons of the Year award. Edward Vick, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Old Greenwich, gave the keynote address.
Following the ceremony, all veterans were invited to the Redmen’s Home Association for a luncheon and a performance from the USO Troop.
“Far too many of us are more concerned about social media and the latest iPhone and far too few of us give any thought to how our country became such a great nation,” Lebeau said in his opening remarks. “It was only possible because of the many millions of patriots who knew that in order to preserve our union they must be willing to put themselves in harm’s way and sacrifice their very lives.”
Tesei called on the words of president Woodrow Wilson with a fitting quote. “Thank you all for braving the elements to honor those who brave more than this so we can all be here today,” he said to the nearly 200 people gathered in their winter coats.
Tesei thanked all those who have served the country, and called for a round of applause from the audience. “We are indebted to you, all the veterans who are gathered here today for your valiant efforts to protect our rights as a country and those of our allies,” he said.
Ruby Durant then sang the Star-Spangled Banner with help from the crowd.
Floren took to the podium to present the American Legion Young Person of the Year awards and state citations to Greenwich High School senior, Willa Doss, and Brunswick senior, Diego Jasson — two students who have made positive contributions to their school, community and place of worship.
“[They] represent everything that is great about Greenwich, about Connecticut and about America,” Floren said. “Our future is in really, really good hands. These two young people reinforce the fact that America’s got talent.”
Doss, who was elected governor of Girls State, and Jasson, who represented Connecticut at Boys Nation, expressed gratitude towards the many veterans from the American Legion who volunteered their time for such programs.
“The American Legion gave us one of the greatest gifts possible, and that was the tools we need to be able to enact positive change within our government and within our communities,” Doss said.
“I was particularly moved by the true passion of the veterans,” Jasson added. “What we realized is that these contributions to our society that veterans have made have not ended when their service to the armed forces ended.”
Edward Vick, who served as a lieutenant during Vietnam and lead over 100 combat missions on the rivers of the Mekong Delta and Cambodian Border, delivered the keynote address, and said he doesn’t like to generally talk about himself in Vietnam except with other veterans.
However, he told one particular story from a dark night in January of 1969.
With no moon and visibility low, Vick lead two boats up a narrow river in search of “bad guys.”
“Suddenly the riverbank just lit up. We were ambushed at very close range by a large force of North Vietnamese, and they were firing everything from rocket propelled grenades to machine guns to small arms,” he said.
One RPG detonated in front of them, and one flew above them and exploded on the riverbank behind. But the next one struck the boat Vick was on below the waterline and they began to sink.
Vick radioed for the other boat to come pick them up. They continued a running gunfight for the rest of the night.
But one moment as the boat was sinking has stuck with Vick over the last 48 years, and he said he’s viewed it with remorse a thousand times since.
“As we jumped off the boat, I left one thing behind,” he said. “Our flag,” noting that it had not been flying because it was a covert night mission. “To this day, I regret not having the presence of mind to try and save that flag.”
However, the fiberglass boat was recovered and repaired the next day. The flag was recovered, too. “She was almost as good as new and she was back in the fight with her flag only a little bit worse for wear.”
Vick said he learned from the ordeal that “that which does not break us, makes us stronger.”
Vick went on to describe how the United States has bounced back after great setbacks, and said that the willingness of men and women around the country to step up and fight over there keeps us safe over here.
“I truly believe, as we all should, that we are all here because of those who were willing to go there. Wherever there was, or is, or ever will be,” he concluded.
Tesei and Vick then placed a wreath at the memorials, and taps was played by bugler George Bennett.
Numerous veterans and residents then headed over to the Redmen’s Home Association for the third annual luncheon and a performance from the USO Troop.
The event was more jovial, as veterans gathered and sat down together for a meal. The four-person USO Troop performed classic tunes from the likes of Glenn Miller, Louis Prima, Carole King and Johnny Cash. They also saluted the armed forces by singing each branch’s song.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Joe Ogren, one of the members of the troop. “It’s one of the most rewarding jobs any performer could ask for. We get back so much more than we give just by meeting all these inspiring people.”
Anthony Marzullo, a member of the Cos Cob VFW Post 10112 who served as a medic in Germany towards the end of the Korean War, said he thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
“It took me back in history. I used to dance to that type of music,” he said with a smile.
Marzullo said he’s appreciative whenever someone thanks him for his service.
“They shake our hands and thank us for our service. The American people today really appreciate veterans,” he said.
Don Sylvester, another Greenwich-area veteran who served in Vietnam, echoed those sentiments and said more people are aware of the sacrifices veterans made.
“It makes you feel good,” he said. “For years no one ever [thanked us].”
David D’Andrea, president of the board of directors for the Redmen’s Home Association, said this year’s luncheon was the best and biggest one yet.
“This was the most powerful, amazing performance ever,” he said. “To see everyone enjoying this spectacular venue was absolutely amazing, especially the veterans. This was the greatest moment I’ve had here, and I’ve been here 21 years.”
D’Andrea stood near the front of the hall, watching the crowd react to the various songs and dances. Afterwards, he thanked everyone for coming.
“This is called Friendship Hall,” D’Andrea told the attendees. “And It’s ringing with friendship and freedom today.”