Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009: Westporters We Have Lost

(The following are remarks as prepared for delivery at the 2009 Memorial Day parade.)

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 2009 Westport Memorial Day observance.

Thank you once again to parade organizer Bill Vornkahl. If I am not mistaken, this is Bill’s 39th Memorial Day parade he has organized. What a tremendous record.  Let’s give Bill a warm round of applause.

And a special tribute to our grand marshal, Ed See. Ed is a World War II veteran, serving in the counterintelligence corps in the Pacific, including assignment to General Douglas McArthur’s headquarters in Manila.

For more than 60 years, Ed has been a valuable member of the Westport community, serving as a founding partner in the firm of Wake, See, Dimes & Bryniczka, and in many capacities of town service. Thank you, Ed, for all you have done for Westport and the nation.

In this age of the Internet, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and other means of modern communication, a small town Memorial Day parade may seem quaint and out of place to some.

To many others, including me, however, it is anything but that. It is a time to remind ourselves that Westport despite its growth over the years really is a small town.

It is a town that has not forgotten its roots and not forgotten those who have gone off to battle over the years to protect and preserve our freedoms. And there are Westporters, or those with Westport connections, who continue to do so.

This past year has seen the passing of many prominent Westporters for whom we all mourn, not all of whom served their community on the battlefields but in other ways.

As we remember those who have contributed so much to the community, at the risk of leaving out many, I’d like to cite some we have lost since our last Memorial Day.

In recent days, there was actress Dorothy Bryce, a fixture in this community for more than 40 years who lit up our stages, television screens, and community organizations with warmth, wit, and an ever present smile. I’m sure she was a theatrical supporter of our men and women overseas.

There was Pearl Wakeman, who, along with her husband, Ike, became fixtures in the community and for whom we are grateful now to have Wakeman Park. Our thanks to the Wakeman family. 

And Edna Yergin, who served this community in so many ways, including 18 years as secretary of the Representative Town Meeting. And Larry Tedesco, a 32-year member of the Westport Fire Department. And Rita Elliott, who was active in many causes.

Perhaps our best known veteran and best known resident lost over the past year was Paul Newman. In addition to a remarkable acting career, Paul enlisted in the Navy and later served as radioman/gunner on a torpedo plane in the Pacific during World War II.

Another Westport theater luminary lost in the past year was Al Pia, long known for his Staples Players. Al flew in combat planes over Europe during World War II.

This year’s Memorial Day parade is the first in years without the presence of Leonard Rovins, who died in February at the age of 93.

A retired U.S. Army colonel, Len was an imposing presence in our community for many years and for many of the last years joined us right here on the dais at our Memorial Day ceremony.

Len participated in many Westport Memorial Day parades, always in full uniform. Especially notable was the Memorial Day parade in 1985 celebrating the 150th anniversary of the town’s founding. He was at the parade’s head along with fellow Westporter John Davis Lodge, the former Connecticut governor and congressman.

Also, in February, we lost Charles Lindbergh Cuseo, the last surviving brother of the famous 12 Cuseo brothers of Westport who left their footprint in the written historical pages of our community. Eight of the brothers served in World War II. 

February also saw the passing of Alfred A. Knopf Jr., a noted publisher who lived in Westport for more than 40 years and raised his family here. He was a bomber pilot during World II.

Also among the World War II Westport vets lost this year was Anthony Anastasia who served in the U.S. Navy on board the USS Massachusetts. And there was Dr. Alan Lieberson, also a World War II vet.

Also Dr. Ted Gluckman, who served as a dentist in the Army during World War II and in the Navy during the Korean War. Jean Kowalsky was also lost in the past year. During World War II, Jean worked for the Chance Vought Company in Bridgeport, building the famed F4U Corsair fighter plane. So did longtime Westporter Virginia Quigley. We also mourn World War II vet Don Saltus.

Gone, too, is Jack Kelly, longtime assistant field hockey coach at Staples High School who was honored as “Volunteer Coach of the Year.” Jack was a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and served in the U.S. Navy from 1948 to 1953.

Tom Horton, Sr., a retired Realtor, was a veteran of the U S Navy, serving as a submarine rescuer during the Korean War. We lost Richard Webber, who after graduating from Yale University in 1961, joined the U.S. Navy. And Lee Jordan, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany from 1954 to 1956, as well as Army veteran Richard Masiello.

There was Doris De Huff, who served during World War II as an LTjg in the U.S. Navy for three years and was one of the youngest women to be commissioned as an officer.

And Irving Gordon, who was in the Army Air Force, and originally trained to be dropped behind enemy lines with a radar unit, but later became a radar instructor, and communications officer and finally chief statistical control officer for the Pacific Theater.

We lost Bernard Yingling who served during World War II in the Army Air Force as a B-29 navigator with the 499th Bomb Group based at Isley Field, Saipan in the South Pacific. Following the war, he joined the Air Force Reserve where he served until retiring to the inactive reserve with the rank of captain in 1962.

A few days after last year’s Memorial Day, we lost Cartoonist legend Mel Casson. Mel enlisted in the infantry for service in World War II and made the Normandy Landing on D-Day. His commander was killed instantly upon reaching Omaha Beach, making Casson next in line to lead the attack.

Casson successfully led his men through the assault without casualties and went on to participate in all the major campaigns in Europe. For his valor, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and decorated with five battle stars: two Bronze stars, the Croix de Guerre and two Purple Hearts.

These Westporters in and out of the armed services are remembered this Memorial Day for giving to our town and our country. As I said, I apologize for the many others I was unable to cite by name. But please know that all Westporters give them our gratitude.

So to our men and women serving our country now and to those who have served in the past, we salute you on this Memorial Day 2009.

Finally, a personal note. This is my fourth and possibly my last Memorial Day address to the town as First Selectman. As someone who marched in this parade as a Cub Scout and Little Leaguer more than 50 years ago, I can’t tell you how proud and honored I have been to have had the opportunity to participate in the parade as town leader, to address this Memorial Day audience, and to serve as First Selectman of my home town. It has been a real treat.

Thank you very much. Have a safe and joyful holiday.  And God Bless America.