Monday, May 29, 2017
By James Lomuscio
He didn’t arrive in a convertible, a sash across his breast and waving to cheering crowds. But Memorial Day Grand Marshall Ed Vebell, 96, held the overflow crowd riveted today in the Westport Town Hall auditorium.
Even though the parade had been canceled because of rain, and some felt cheated as the sun peaked in through the high, arched windows, Vebell did something few, if any, grand marshals have done.
He had attendees cheering for more of his stories as the artist-illustrator, Olympic fencer and town resident since 1953 turned European theater raconteur.
From his wheelchair, the man whose artistic, on-the-scene talents had brought to life the Nuremberg trials with pen and ink illustrations now at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Vebell proved his skill as a storyteller, too.
He spoke about being dropped behind enemy lines in Germany during World War II to sketch illustrations for Stars and Stripes.
He talked about the cinematic value of meeting a German artist, a baron who had defected to the American side, wanting revenge after Hitler, incensed by an unflattering Time Magazine cover illustration of him, had had the artist’s parents killed.
Vebell also revealed the little known World War II truce that occurred at Monte Cassino in Italy. He said that German and American soldiers, who had called timeout to remove their dead from the battlefield, met up, exchanged stories and souvenirs, began to know one another, questioned why they were killing each other and even wanted to share dinner.
But the U.S. commanders would have none of it, he said, frowning on fraternizing with the enemy.
“The war could have been over that day,” he said. “But, the politicians wanted to keep the war going.”
Vebell’s talk capped an engaged gathering despite the annual parade’s washout. It was the second year in a row the parade had been canceled because rain, the third time since 2011.
But Bill Vornkahl, a World War II veteran and president of the Westport Veterans Council who has been running the event for 47 years, was determined not to have it rain on his parade.
“I’m bringing the parade to you,” Vornkahl said.
And he did as the Col. John Chester Fife & Drum Corps from Wethersfield marched into “Yankee Doodle,” fifes at full volume, drums thundering.
From the invocation by the Rev. Edward Horne of the United Methodist Church of Westport-Weston to his benediction, to the placing of the memorial wreath to the patriotic musical selections by Staples High School soloists, the ceremony never seemed to lose sight of those who gave their lives for America’s freedoms.
“Let us always remember the service that these veterans gave to our country,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe, who read a list of 49 veterans who died this past year.
“When you return to your homes today, enjoy your holiday, and take the time to reflect on what the flags, the music, the traditions and the speeches mean, and what you want your children and grandchildren to remember about Westport’s Memorial Day.
“That it means placing service to your country above yourself, and that the price of democracy, of the ability to debate and disagree in a civil and respectful manner, may mean making the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation,” he added.
“Today, we honor those who made that sacrifice for us all.”
Posted 05/29/17 at 01:54 PM Permalink