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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Best Memorial Day Parade ‘We Never Had’

By James Lomuscio

Second Selectwoman Shelly Kassen approached William Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council, after today’s rain-substituted Memorial Day service concluded at Westport Town Hall.WestportNow.com Image
A fife and drum corps marches into the Town Hall auditorium today as Bill Vornkahl, president of the Veterans Council, watches.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com

“It was the best parade we never had,” she said. “Everything was so focused.”

Vornkalh, known as “Mr. Parade” since this was his 41st year running the event, smiled. The event was a success after all, he and others said, even though it was only the fourth time in Vornkalh’s tenure that the parade was called on account of rain.

Vornkahl said it was a tough decision to cancel it at 8 a.m., but with heavy rain and lightning, safety came first for the 71 units that had had planned to line up along Riverside Avenue.

“With lightning and thunder you can’t take any chances, especially with metal band instruments and flagpoles,” he said. “Although, they say the war never stopped for rain. This was the hardest thing I had to do.”

Still he remained upbeat as he welcomed visitors to the 10 a.m. memorial service that had been moved to the Town Hall auditorium which was standing room only.

Vornkahal beamed when Grand Marshal Tracy Sugarman sporting his white, U.S. Navy ensign dress uniform, walked in with his wife Gloria. Sugarman, a renowned illustrator, artist and author, is a World War II veteran who took part in the D-Day invasion.WestportNow.com Image
The Junior Colonial Fife and Drum Corps from Westbrook were one of two fife and drum units performing at today’s ceremony. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

“I’m having the parade in here,” Vornkahl quipped, as he affixed the Grand Marshal sash to Sugarman.

Though he was not riding in a convertible and waving to the crowds, Sugarman seemed thrilled by the honor. He consoled Vornkahl, telling him that even the D-Day invasion, originally planned for June 5, 1944 was postponed a day due to inclement weather.

“I woke up looking forward to the parade,” Sugarman later told the crowd. “I guess man proposes and God disposes.”

He said he was reminded of the night before the first planned D-day invasion of Normandy when the sea was enveloped “in a pea soup fog.”

“Eisenhower called it off, and we had to go out in our little boat in the fog and knock on ships and say we’re not going,” he recalled. “We all prepare. I feel bad for the kids who were cheated today, but life goes on.”WestportNow.com Image
Boy Scout Harrison Ames led the Pledge of Allegience.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

Still, young people were well represented at Town Hall as the Staples High School Band under the direction of Nicholas Mariconda performed on the stage. Two fife and drum corps marched up and down the aisles, their booming drums reverberating so loudly some in the crowd covered their ears.

The Col.John Chester Fife & Drum Corps from Wethersfield and the Junior Colonial Fife & Drum Corps from Westbrook played patriotic standbys from “God Bless America” to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

All the while, the Color Guard of veterans in different uniforms and from different wars, stood at attention at stage left.

The Rev. John Branson, rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, delivered the ceremony’s invocation and benediction. He called on each present to remember the veterans “for the freedom we enjoy and so easily take for granted. Every citizen, he said, lives with “an unredeemable debt to their service.”

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff gave the welcoming address, reiterating not only the theme of indebtedness to veterans, “but those who’ve served Westport.” WestportNow.com Image
Laura Radcliffe showed the flag at today’s Town Hall ceremony. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

He read off a list of deceased veterans, several of whom had marched last year, as well as a roster of Westporters and those with Westport connections who have died since last Memorial Day. As he read the list, there were several murmurs in the crowd as names were recognized.

“They made our town and world a better place,” said Joseloff. “I salute them, and God bless America.”

The indoor ceremony was replete with a placing of the Memorial Wreath at the base of the stage by the Ladies Auxillary VFW Post 399 and the commanders of Post 399 and American Legion Post 63.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the ceremony was Sugarman describing the list of more than 1,600 veterans “50 of them who never made it back to Westport” whose names are in Veterans Green across from Town Hall.

At the base of the World War I Doughboy statue are the names of 250 “who answered the call.”WestportNow.com Image
Many members of the Town Hall audience wore patriotic colors. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

“We may quarrel about the necessity of war, but we should never fight about the people who serve,” Sugarman said, noting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the longest running wars in our country’s history.

The soldiers who serve, he stressed, are nothing like the Hollywood accounts portrayed by “Tom Cruise or John Wayne.

“They look like students at Staples or our kids home from college,” he said. “Our soldiers were kids like our kids.”

Sugarman, who had opposed the Vietnam War and had worn a black armband in a Westport Memorial Day parade during the 1960s, does not like to hear that the war he was in, World War II, “was a good war.”

“There is no good war,” he said. “War is a disaster. The best we can say about our war, the war I was in, is that it was necessary.”

He also pointed out that since the world has become more dangerous today, democratic countries “that enjoy freedom have to work together” to ensure that freedom prevails.

Sugarman also noted that the concept of freedom since the nation’s founding continues to evolve.

“The country we love and fought for continues to grow,” he said.

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Posted 05/30/11 at 07:55 PM  Permalink



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Many people were asking today why the decision was made to cancel the parade, rather than postpone it for an hour.  All of the radar weather sites indicated with virtual certainty that the weather would turn nice by about 9:30 this morning, which it did.  Couldn’t all of the day’s festivities simply have been moved back one hour?

Posted by Jim Hood on May 31, 2011 at 02:09 AM | #
 

Agreed Jim.  Nobody seems to be answering that question.

Parade was scheduled to start at 9:00 but was called off at 8:00.  By 9:45-10:00 the rain had stopped and shortly thereafter the sun was shining. Why did it have to be decided by 8:00?  Maybe there’s a good reason but so far I haven’t heard it.

Why such a rush to cancel?  Other towns around us were able to throw their parades without a hitch, why couldn’t we?

Posted by Nick Blaikie on May 31, 2011 at 12:50 PM | #