Monday’s West Hartford Memorial Day Parade was followed by a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial honoring the men and women who gave their lives for the United States.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford paid tribute to its veterans Monday following the annual Memorial Day parade, honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in their service to the United States.
The ceremony was held at the Connecticut Veterans Memorial in West Hartford Center, the first time since 2015 that rain has not put a damper on the holding the event outdoors.
Arman Chowdhury of Hall High School opened the ceremony with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. Town Manager Matt Hart, a U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard veteran, served as emcee.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor was joined by parade Grand Marshals Dawn Morris and Charles Carlton, as the three placed the memorial wreath in the center of the Veterans Memorial, a sacred area where a collection of soil and water taken from battlefields around the country was sprinkled when the structure was built.
Morris, executive vice president and chief operating officer with Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation, is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as a captain in the Army’s 530th Supply and Service Battalion at Fort Bragg, NC.
Growing up as an “Army brat,” Morris said she recalled thinking, “Someday I’d like to be like my dad.”
Her father, Charles Carlton, is a retired U.S. Army Infantry colonel whose active duty included two combat tours in Vietnam and Cambodia (1967-70). He served tours with the Fifth Marine Regiment, the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, and the 82d Airborne Division, was special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, commander of a Joint Task Force in Central America during the Contra-Sandinista confrontation, and a participant in the removal of Noriega in Panama in 1989.
“My years at West Point instilled in me discipline, drive, and a strong work ethic,” Morris said.
As she paid tribute to those who gave their lives in the service of this country on Monday, Morris told the stories of two women.
Second Lt. Emily Perez was a member of the “Class of 9/11” at West Point, Morris said. She was deployed to Iraq in 2005, always went above and beyond, and was trusted by everyone around her. As she often did, Perez volunteered to lead a convoy in place of someone else, when on Sept. 12, 2006, she hit an IED.
She was the only member of the convoy killed in the mission. At age 23, Perez became the first female West Point graduate to die in Iraq.
Morris also told the story of Mary Odell, a then-27-year-old West Hartford woman and Hall High School graduate who was working at Aetna when she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC). She was the only female casualty from West Hartford to die in World War II, Morris said.
“These are two of so many who have given their lives in service for our country,” Morris said.
A beautiful new rose garden has now been created next to the Veteran’s Memorial, Morris said, to honor “Rosie the riveters,” the generation of women who supported the war efforts from home. “These collective sacrifices give new perspective to the phrase ‘freedom is never free,'” Morris said.
“I say to all of you … salute and enjoy your freedom, celebrate your family, and serve your community,” said Morris.
Carlton took the podium next, thanking the town for holding the parade, remarking on the enthusiasm of the many children who participated.
“What caused these people to make such sacrifices?” Carlton said, speaking of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It’s not a difficult question to answer, because we live in a country with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and a class-less society, where our government is “truly one of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Speaking of those who are engaged in military service today, Carlton said, “To these heroes of today as well as those of the past that we are honoring today, our country and our citizens owe an undying debt of gratitude.”
“I encourage all of us to take some time to reflect on the message they have shared and the stories that they have shared with us today,” Hart said following the keynote speeches.
Prior to her prepared speech, Cantor noted that members of the youth soccer leagues who marched in the parade did so in honor of the late Paul Glover, who made countless contributions to the soccer community in West Hartford. Glover, who died in March, was also a Korean War veteran and longtime member of the town’s Veterans’ Commission “never stopped serving his country, his state, and his community with passion, humility and grace. Paul was a true American hero.”
Memorial Day was first celebrated 150 years ago, in 1868, Cantor said. When Congress made it a national holiday in 1971, changing it from May 30 to the fourth Monday of May, many veterans opposed the idea, thinking it would lose the meaning of the holiday, and turn it into just a long weekend for barbecues and fun.
While many Americans do just that, Cantor said, “We are here today to remember, to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Cantor said.
Listing the number who died and were wounded in wars dating back to the Civil War, Cantor said, “By Memorial Day 2018, 1.3 million have died fighting for America. We thank you, we remember you, we honor you.”
American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 Commander Moe Fradette read the names of high school seniors from West Hartford who have made a commitment to serve in the armed forces, and who will be honored Tuesday night at a ceremony at Town Hall.
“For everyone in attendance today, please remember that Memorial Day is more than just a celebration,” Hart said. “It’s a commemoration.”
Celebrating and having fun is fine, “but let us never, never, lose sight of that,” Hart said.
Also participating in the ceremony were Rev. Kenneth Frazier, a Navy veteran and senior minister of the First Congregational Church in Waterbury who gave the benediction, and color guards from the West Hartford Police Department, West Hartford Fire Department, and American Legion Post 96.
As the ceremony came to an end, Thatcher Slocum and Aaron Mark of Sedgwick Middle School sounded “Taps” and the crowd dispersed.
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