Andrew Clapsaddle, the principal of Sedgwick Middle School, spoke about the importance of ‘service’ in his keynote address at West Hartford’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford continued the tradition of honoring its veterans, but in deference to Saturday’s freezing temperatures and brisk wind, the town’s annual ceremony was moved indoors to the auditorium of First Church West Hartford, where at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 a capacity crowd gathered to pay tribute to all who have served.
Sedgwick Middle School Principal Andrew Clapsaddle, who served as a combat photographer in the U.S. Marines for four years after high school, was the keynote speaker.
Military service is a strong element of his family’s history, Clapsaddle said. Most recently his father served as a tank commander in the Army in the 1950s and 1960s, and his brother was in the Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm with an infantry unit that helped liberate Kuwait.
The important purpose of Veterans Day, Clapsaddle said, “is above all an opportunity to celebrate the choice someone makes to serve their country.”
Clapsaddle said as he considered the importance of his time in the military on his life, the word “service” came to mind. It was the term used years ago to ask if someone was in the military, but the term is not outdated at all and actually more relevant than ever, he said.
“‘Service’ is defined as rendering assistance, help, or aid,” Clapsaddle said. In the big picture, that’s what our military does.
Clapsaddle said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that he transitioned from being in the military to being an educator, because it involves many of the same core values – “motivation, commitment, courage, excellence and service” that guided him as a teacher and now as a principal.
“From my perspective education is not a job, it’s a calling,” Clapsaddle said.
We should all find some way to serve, Clapsaddle said. “Service is the foundation and the network of humankind.”
He also encouraged everyone to find some way to help and support a veteran or service member.
“A final message to our veterans: Please, please share your stories with someone new … the more we will demonstrate to everyone that serving your country is an example of excellence,” Clapsaddle said.
Town Council Minority Leader Denise Hall, whose late father Jean Paul Berard was involved in the construction of the Connecticut Veterans Memorial where the ceremony is customarily held, spoke of the importance of the memorial, the hallowed ground in the center containing soils from battlefields, cemeteries, prison war camps, and waters from the seven oceans that were combined on dedication day with Connecticut earth.
Hall said that she and former town manager Ron Van Winkle had long lamented that many did not know the significance of that part of the memorial. A new marker has now been placed in the center, describing what lies beneath.
“Today is where we make a point of thanking veterans for their service … their willingness to stand between us and those who would do us harm,” Hall said.
Rather than her customary history lesson, Hall shared excerpts from a speech given by former Lt. General John Kelly in 2010 – describing a horrific 2008 suicide bombing in Iraq that had been captured on video – an example of servicemen who leaned into the face of danger, doing “their duty into eternity,” Hall said.
“Those are the kind of people on watch all over the world for you. Thank you,” Hall said.
Mayor Shari Cantor said speaking on Veterans Day is a daunting task, because any expression of gratitude to veterans seems inadequate. The families and friends of veterans also carry a heavy load.
“We say we honor you and we remember you, we talk about ways we as Americans can give back to our veterans, today and every day, but what is important to know about veterans is that they are among the most active volunteers to improve our communities across the country,” said Cantor, citing statistics that they donate 30 percent more time than non-veterans.
In West Hartford, veterans and families of veterans are involved in improving and leading our community every day, Cantor said, specifically mentioning Ron Van Winkle, Town Manager Matt Hart, Town Planner Todd Dumais, and Public Works Director John Phillips – all of whom are veterans. Cantor also noted the volunteer contributions of Moe Fradette, Ken Colliton, Janet Fournier, Ray and Leesa Philipponm, and Denise Hall.
People like Ben Cooper know the benefit of bringing veterans together and listening to their stories, Cantor said.
Cooper, who served as a combat medic in World War II, helped liberate Dachau. “Ben witnessed one of the most horrific and ugliest sights of humanity and yet he has an amazing outlook on life,” Cantor said. He hands out a card to everyone he meets that states: “Save humanity. Stop hatred and bullying by practicing my life saving motto – ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ You can do it! Never give up! Always remember we all belong to the same race … the human race.”
Cooper also started something called “Roll Call,” an informal meeting of veterans every year on Sept. 11, allowing members of all branches of service to share their stories.
“There are no words big enough, there is not a hug strong enough, there is not a smile wide enough,” said Cantor. “All I can offer is thank you. You are my hero. You are in my thoughts and my prayers for all you have done and all you will do. Thank you.”
In addition to the principal, other representatives of Sedgwick Middle School played another important role in Saturday’s ceremony. “Top of the Sixes,” the school’s sixth grade select choir, under the direction of Melissa Dzen, sang the National Anthem.
Deacon James Hickey of the Church of St. Peter Claver gave the invocation and benediction, and color guards from the West Hartford Police Department, West Hartford Fire Department, and American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 were also on hand to pay tribute to the veterans.
Moe Fradette, former commander of Post 96, served as emcee, and told the crowd that Veterans Day is a time to “honor the courage and strength our military has shown throughout our nation’s history,” giving us freedom, security, and “the greatest nation on earth.”
To conclude the ceremony, Peter Roe of the American Legion Post 96 sounded “Taps,” and Eagle Scouts Chris Stimson and Graham Douglass of Boy Scout Troop 163 processed down the aisle with the memorial wreath, placing it in the front of the auditorium.
About 30 veterans remained after the ceremony, posing for a photo.
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