West Hartford’s Memorial Day Ceremony respectfully and honorably recognized those who have fallen in battle, those still fighting, and those who will lead future generations.
By Bridget Bronsdon. Photos by Ronni Newton
At the corner of Farmington Ave and North Main, West Hartford residents, leaders, families, and veterans stood upon the Wall of Honor in the Veterans Memorial Walkway to pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Following a lively and exuberant parade throughout West Hartford Center to commemorate the day’s celebrations, a smaller crowd gathered in the Veterans Memorial Walkway to pay respects and consider the true meaning of the day.
Heidi-Anne Mooney, who is currently serving her second year as Post Commander of the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96, commenced the ceremony. “All who served gave some, but some who served gave all,” she said. “Today we honor those who gave all, and we also honor their families who have had birthdays and holidays without them …”
She then asked onlookers to pause in a moment of silence to honor those who gave their lives for freedom and in honor of their families.
Following the brief reflection, Deacon Robert Kiley of Saint Peter Claver delivered an invocation to recognize the “most precious gift” – life itself, that fallen soldiers have sacrificed for others.
Ilana Brown of Hall High School then took to the podium to perform a touching rendition of the National Anthem.
Commander Mooney went on to recognize 2023 as the 101st anniversary of the Hayes-Velhage American Legion Post 96, and introduced the keynote speaker, Major Gerald Gorss, who also participated in the parade as grand marshal.
Gorss, a West Hartford Native and Conard High School graduate is highly decorated in his career accomplishments. “Major Gorss served as an active duty army officer for more than a decade. Upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the aviation branch and was assigned to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After graduating from flight school as an Honor Graduate of his class, he was assigned to the prestigious 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served in command and staff assignments from Platoon Leader through Troop Commander. He deployed to northeastern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and helped test and author the Army’s innovative concepts regarding manned and unmanned aviation teaming.” Mooney noted.
“In 2020, he transitioned from active duty to the United States Army Reserve, serving as an Assistant Professor of Military Science for the ROTC battalion at Boston College and Northeastern University. Today he serves as a Military Academy Liaison Officer, responsible for recruiting and assessing high school students for admission to West Point,” she said, noting that he’s the guy that students who are interested in attending West Point should get to know.
“Thank you all for being here today, we honor the fallen. It’s a distinct honor to serve as this year’s grand marshall and to be with you all.” Major Gorss began. “Memorial Day, originally called ‘Decoration Day,’ began more than 150 years ago. It’s a time of remembrance for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and defense of our nation and was born out of the great expense endured during our bloodiest and most costly struggle, the Civil War. Today, like we have for decades, we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Since the beginning of our republic, over 40 million Americans have worn the uniform of this nation, have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, and have stood in the gap between their fellow citizens and those seeking to do harm to us and the values that we hold sacred,” he said.
“Many people spend this day differently; barbecues, memorials, church. Others struggle just to get through it. My message to everyone is that whatever the day’s activities bring, please do one thing: remember, honor, and appreciate the men and women that have invested their blood to give us the freedoms we enjoy. They invested for their teammates, their nation, and their ideals. As we reflect on their sacrifice, we the living, each have an obligation, an obligation to share their stories, honor their sacrifice, support their families, and live our lives worthy of that sacrifice,” Gorss said.
“Thank you to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, thank you to the families that have shared that sacrifice, and thank you to those who daily carry the visible and invisible wounds that are required in order to keep us the greatest country in the world,” Gorss remarked.
Connecticut state Sen. Derek Slap was then welcomed to the podium to also speak about the true meaning of the day. “Fundamentally at its core, it’s what we’re doing right now which is paying tribute, showing gratitude, and saying thank you to our veterans and especially our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
Slap welcomed his stepfather, Carl McCargo, a submarine veteran who served from 1963-1970, to the podium.
“I would like to say for all of you who say ‘thank you for your service’ to me, I would like to say to you, thank you for your support,” McCargo said. “This salute is for everyone here today and I salute you. Thank you for your support.”
The final speaker of the ceremony was West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, who called to action the future generation of soldiers.
“For me, a recurring question comes to mind on this holiday. Who will be those next defenders of our country’s freedom?” Cantor continued, “Who will be our future defenders against unjust domination by world leaders? Who answers that call with the understanding they are putting their life ahead of others? Here in West Hartford, there are 19 high school seniors from Hall, Conard, Northwest Catholic, and Kingswood Oxford who said they would.”
As Cantor recognized West Hartford’s own students who are taking the next steps to serve our country she said, “The answer to the question, ‘Who will be our future defenders of freedom?’ is found right here at home.”
The traditional ceremony closing included placement of the memorial wreath to remember those lost in battle, a reading of “Remember Me, A Soldier’s Prayer,” a closing prayer read by Major Sean Nolan, and the sounding of TAPS on the trumpet by Thomas Tamborello-Noble of Conard High School and Sophie Barnes of Bristow Middle School.
As onlookers quietly filed out, offered hugs and handshakes to neighbors and loved ones, and greeted those around them with kind words, West Hartford can mark Memorial Day 2023 as another year graciously honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
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