By James Lomuscio
For more than two hours under azure skies, today’s Westport Memorial Day parade seemed replete with the sounds of brass, sirens, horns and cheers from onlookers.
Kim Keehan points out to Malcolm Watson her father’s name on the World War II Honor Roll. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com
More than 64 units of veterans, police, fire, emergency services, town government, social service and school groups wound through downtown Westport as marchers trumpeted the unofficial start of summer.
But despite the despite the festivities, flag waving and shouts of “Happy Memorial Day” from many of the almost 2, 000 in attendance, there was a sense of the bittersweet, a distinct seriousness as the parade passed Veterans Green.
There, the lone World War I Doughboy and the World War II Honor Roll reminded those who paused long enough of the day’s meaning—to honor those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice.
As the parade forged ahead toward Parker Harding Plaza, Malcolm Watson, dressed in a sailor’s uniform, walked reverently and alone toward the Honor Roll.
Watson, who served in the Vietnam War, “the Brownwater Navy just two miles off the coast of Vietnam,” seemed sentimental and searching.
In a short while, a woman appeared from under a tree near the Honor Roll.
“Malcolm, is that you?” she asked.
They ran to each other and hugged. The woman, Kim Keehan, pointed to the Honor Roll.
“My Dad’s over here,” she said pointing to the name Edward J. Keehan, a World War II Navy veteran who died Jan. 2 from advanced melanoma.
Kim Keehan became choked up, noting that this was the first Memorial Day her father would not be standing with pride by the Honor Roll.
Ed Keehan, nicknamed Edyo, was the man who spearheaded having the Honor Roll restored in Westport. The original roster had been lost decades earlier when Town Hall moved from Post Road East to its present Myrtle Avenue location.
“Here’s my dad,” Watson said, pointing to a name the same as his. “He died when I was 2. And here’s my stepdad, Elmer Sniffen, part of a longtime Westport family. He raised me.”
On the other side of the park and waiting for the parade to wind down stood Suzanne and Jeff Ford. Dressed like wounded World War I soldiers, they had just been on the Y’s Men float that choreographed and celebrated the 4 million who served in the First World War.
They also waxed sentimentally about their father, Clark Ford, who died at 76 three years ago. Clark Ford had served in the Army following the Korean conflict.
“This day reminds me of my dad who served and what he and others gave,” said Jeff Ford.
“Many gave their lives,” she said.
She continued that their father was also a very active member of the Y’s men, designing their annual Memorial Day floats.
This year’s float depicted in eerie, almost museum-like quality, costumed Y’s men as World War I soldiers in trenches, manning a machine gun, in the field or felled by gunfire.
“My Dad raised the bar of what a float should be,” said Suzanne Ford, who along with her mother and brothers are now honorary Y’s Men.
“Some people we passed, when they saw us bloodied up, gasped,” Jeff Ford pointed out. “But it’s the reality of war. We want to remind people.”
“It’s more than just kids and floats,” his sister chimed in.
Across the road and in the viewing stand stood First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff, Second Selectman Shelly Kassen, state Rep. Joe Mioli—and a father and son, co-Grand Marshals George Marks Sr. and George Marks Jr. World War II and Vietnam War veterans respectively, both retired Westport police officers.
“It’s been a great day,” Marks Sr. said. “It’s a good day to get together with my family, and I’m glad we’re all here.”
“This whole morning has been absolutely delightful,” Marks Jr. said. “The people have been absolutely wonderful, many I haven’t seen in a long while.”
Before long, the memorial service began, 12-year-old Sophie Call and her sister Charlotte, 8, both Girl Scouts, lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Becca Loeser, 18 and a senior at Staples High School, sang the National Anthem, and members of the Ladies Auxiliary placed a memorial wreath at the base of the Doughboy.
Mioli, who was stationed in an Army camp in Georgia but never deployed during Vietnam, called the day bittersweet.
Kim Keehan, Watson, the Fords and the Marks father and son team all seemed to express the same bittersweet emotion, a sense of loss bolstered by honor and gratitude.