“It’s an important tradition for us to come here,” said Richard Gottmeier, prior to the start of the Monday, May 26 ceremony at the VFW Post 308 honoring veterans who have died in service to the country. Mr Gottmeier served 28 years in the Army and Army Reserves, he said, is a member of the VFW, and comes from a family tradition of serving the country since the Revolutionary War. “We pay our respects today to those who didn’t get to come home. They are the true heroes,” he said.
US Marine Corps veteran Robert Qubick of Sandy Hook was also among those gathered outside the VFW club on Memorial Day. “I come every year to this,” he said. “I feel compassion for all veterans, and for those having trouble now with our Veteran’s Administration,” Mr Qubick said.
Diane Simpson attended with her husband, James Simpson, a retired Master Sgt of the US Army, who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. “It’s the bringing together of everyone,” she said, noting the large crowd in attendance.
Jen Clark led the singing of the National Anthem, followed by a brief prayer led by Donna Monteleone Randle. VFW Post 308 Commander James Rebman introduced VFW Webmaster in Connecticut Walter Dolan, who thanks all of the veterans in attendance, and reminded the crowd that it is “easy to get wrapped up in our lives” and forget about the impact the lives lost in service to the country have for all. At his request, names of fallen service men and women were raised up, to honor their memories, followed by a moment of silence.
“Think about the people who loved and cherished them,” Mr Dolan reminded the gathering. “We owe a great debt to each man and woman… we dedicate this day to them,” he said. “Before you leave,” Mr Dolan requested, “promise you will never forget.”
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra took the podium next for brief remarks. At previous Memorial Day services, she said, she has told the stories of fallen soldiers, trying to make connections that are real and personal. “Today, I add two names,” Mrs Llodra said on Monday morning. Charles Havlat was killed just six hours before Germany unconditionally surrendered, May 7, 1945, in Czechoslovakia, she said, while Todd Lobraico, of New Fairfield, died in 2013 from small arms fire near Bagram, Afghanistan.
Mrs Llodra reminded all present that June 6 marks the 70th Anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Charles Havlat was among the 156,000 soldiers who landed on the beach at Normandy that day. It was, she said, the campaign that turned the tide in World War II. Although French President Francois Hollande will join President Obama in honoring those soldiers who stormed the beach that day, as well as the few remaining American soldiers who survived that campaign, Mrs Llodra expressed disappointment that France has decided not to support the cost of transporting D-Day veterans to that ceremony. “It seems,” she said, “that we can do better for those who serve.”
Mrs Llodra also noted that the current Veteran’s Administration scandal that has made the news is symbolic of “how we do not hold up our end of the bargain… Each and every one owes a debt,” she emphasized, and asked that all commit to repaying that debt.
The ceremonial laying of flowers and a wreath, followed by a final gun salute, and the playing of Taps ended the ceremony honoring the many lives lost serving the United States of America.
State Representative Dan Carter, an Air Force Major, as well as State Representative Mitch Bolinsky, was in attendance at the May 26 service.
“It’s important that people understand the true meaning of Memorial Day,” said Rep Carter, of honoring those who died. He was particularly touched by the naming of names during the VFW ceremony and moment of silence. He kept in mind, he said, his many friends who died off of North Carolina in 1992, when their C130 went down. “There are lots of days we recognize people who serve,” said Rep Carter, “but today is about the ones who perished.” It is right to enjoy the holiday, he added, “but keep those people in mind who gave [freedom to do so] to us.”