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Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice

By James Lomuscio

From the reviewing stand in front of Westport Town Hall today, Grand Marshall Leonard Everett Fisher stared out at the seemingly endless parade of first responders, veterans, marching bands and floats, all moving proudly under a crisp, azure morning sky. Image
Leonard Everett Fisher acknowledges the applause after his Memorial Day parade address today. Parade organizer Bill Vornkahl applauds. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for

The float most dear to Fisher was the Y’s Men’s, not just because he designed it, but for what it represented—a tribute to the more than 56,000 Americans who died in Vietnam.

“It’s a sad day for many many people,” said Fisher, a World War II Army veteran, as he headed to Veterans Green where he would give a speech. “Well, the sun is shining on us, and maybe that’s a good sign, a sign that the world will change, and that it will be better for us than it is.”

His sobering words seemed in stark contrast to the festivities of Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer though it was created to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I was a very lucky G.I.,” he said in the shadow of the World War I Doughboy statue to the crowd of hundreds assembled on Veterans Green. “I was not a hero.”

The true heroes, he said quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, “are the ones who never came back” or came back “broken.”

Others would disagree that Fisher, a town resident since 1957, a children’s book illustrator and postage stamp artist, was anything but a hero. Enlisting at 19, the Army tapped him due to his artistic bent and skill with drafting equipment to draw military topography maps for the D-Day invasion, Gen. George Patton’s army and the planned invasion of Japan.

But as Malcolm Watson, a Vietnam Navy veteran, said as he stood outside of Town Hall, it is those not present who are being honored.

“I know people who went and died, and I try to remember that,” said Watson, a lifelong Westporter.

He somberly recalled his friend “from the Scouts, Timoth Barmer,” a Marine killed in Vietnam.

Ray Orr, 92, who served as grand marshal in 1996, also cannot forget friends who died. As he watched the parade, memories flooded back. He was 19 and aboard the USS Bagley docked at Pearl Harbor. Image
Ray Orr, 92, the 1996 grand marshal, tells WestportNow’s James Lomuscio he cannot forget friends who died at Pearl Harbor. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for

“I have to admit it, but I waved to the plane because I didn’t see the insignia since I was on the port side,” Orr said. “He dropped a torpedo, and it went and hit the Oklahoma, and then a second plane came and dropped a torpedo, and it hit the Oklahoma. Then it started to tip over. I saved myself by jumping in the water.”

Sacrifice and service remained the prevailing themes. For the veterans who made it home, a simple thank you carried a lot of weight.

“I had two people from France come up to me along Riverside Avenue and thank me for my service,” said Neil Croarkin, 94, a former Army captain who had served in the South Pacific.

In his final speech as First Selectman since he is not seeking a third term, Gordon Joseloff honored all those who served, not only in the military but who had served the town, and who had died this past year.

Joseloff pointed out the passing of artist, author and civil rights activist Tracy Sugarman, who had been grand marshall in 2011. Image
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Selectman Shelly Kassen made their last Memorial Day parade appearance as town leaders. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Kim Harizman for

“In his Memorial Day remarks that year, Tracy spoke of his love for Westport and the soldiers who fight wars,” Joseloff said.

Quoting Sugarman, Joseloff said, “We may quarrel about the necessity for a war, but we should never quarrel about the devotion and dedication of the men and women who we send to fight. There is a mythology about those young people, sparked by our television and films.

“They do not resemble Tom Hanks or John Wayne. The men who hit the invasion beach with me in World War II looked much more like the junior or senior students at Staples High School, or our kids home from college.”


Posted 05/27/13 at 06:06 PM  Permalink


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