Category Archives: History

A Few Hours To Honor The Minute Men

They’re called the Minute Men, but they spent 8 years fighting the Revolutionary War.

It took a couple of years to renovate Westport’s Minute Man statue.

The annual Minute Man Road Race is actually 2 races — 5K or 10K — which take considerably longer than a minute to run.

So it’s fitting that Westport will celebrate “Minute Man Day” next (Sunday, April 26), with a series of activities that take 300 minutes (5 hours, if you failed math).

Minute Man Road RaceThe activities — commemorating the 238th anniversary of the British march from Compo Beach to Danbury and back again (our Minute Men did a pretty good job against them), and celebrating the renovation of Henry Daniel Webster’s 105-year-old statue — begin at noon on Sunday, April 26, soon after the Minute Man Race.

Departing every 15 minutes from 12 to 1:30 p.m., Westport Historical Society docents (including yours truly) will lead guided tours. We’ll start at the Ned Dimes Marina (definitely not a Revolutionary War facility), and make stops at the old cemetery and Minute Man statue. There are special children’s activities at the marina. Net proceeds from a suggested donation of $10 (ages 13 and up) go toward the ongoing care of the statue.

From 1-5 p.m., a recreated Revolution militia encampment will be set up on Jesup Green. The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution color guard performs musket demonstrations. This event is free.

At 2:30 p.m. in the Westport Library, conservator Francis Miller will describe how he restored the Minute Man statue. This one is free too.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

At 3 p.m. — also in the library — history lecturer Ed Hynes discusses the Danbury raid. He’ll talk about the 4-day adventure, which included noted brigadier general Benedict Arnold. If you don’t know which side he was on — or even if you do — this promises to be very educational.

In fact, the entire day is worth more than a few minutes of our time.

Minute Man Day

From Westport To Selma: 50 Years Of Activism

Denny Davidoff will be 83 years old tomorrow.  The longtime Westport Unitarian Church member and social justice fighter celebrated last weekend with a trip to Alabama.

She spent three days in Birmingham, at a Unitarian Universalist conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” beating of civil rights workers in Selma. Workshop topics ranged from history and racism to Ferguson, nonviolence and “the new Jim Crow.” Speakers included Dr. Bernice King, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. William Barber.

The UU church was intimately involved in the 1965 voting rights struggle. Both Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo — a lay volunteer — were killed in Selma-related incidents.

On Sunday, Davidoff and several thousand other Americans — of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds — walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The emotional event featured songs, music, and loudspeakers that broadcast Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Selma speech from 1965.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian and mother from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride  after a civil rights rally.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian mother of 5 from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride following a march.

It was an inspiring 4 days for Davidoff, who remembers watching the brutal events in Selma as they happened half a century ago, with her husband Jerry.

The weekend showed Davidoff “how far we’ve come, and how much there still is to do. We need to embrace more, and do some more butt-kicking.”

For Davidoff, Selma was another link in a lifetime chain of activism. One current project: She’s raising money to train a new generation of UU ministers to “understand the need to reach out beyond congregations, and work with our hearts with everyone.”

Denny Davidoff (right) and Rev. Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan -- and a US senator.

Denny Davidoff (right) and Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained as a Unitarian minister following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan — and a US senator.

Randy Burnham was also part of the UU conference. A 1962 Staples graduate, now a psychologist with a practice in Westport, he’s a veteran of the 1963 March on Washington.

“I went down to get reinvigorated,” Burnham says. “I wanted to figure out how, as a white man, I can continue to assist as an ally in the freedom movement.”

In Birmingham, he was moved by discussions of recent attempts to cut back on voters’ rights — a key focus of the Selma marches, 50 years ago.

“This is not a black/white, rich/poor, Democratic/Republican issue,” he says. “It is a moral issue. We need non-violent resistance to make sure our rights are not stolen.”

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport's Unitarian Church; she's now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport's UU church -- and social justice issues -- for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner (right) is president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute, and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church.

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport’s Unitarian Church; she’s now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport’s UU church — and social justice issues — for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner of Westport is on the right.

Late yesterday afternoon, Rev. Debra Haffner was still trying to process all she’d seen and heard. The president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute — and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church — she had been to Selma before. She’d met people who were at the marches 50 years ago, and had known some of the men and women who were murdered.

“I had to go back,” she says.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten badly in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten with clubs in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge — surrounded by over 600 Unitarians, all wearing yellow shirts — Haffner was “very aware of my role as an ally. I felt great pride that this movement I am now part of was there 50 years ago, too.”

Haffner took this message home yesterday: “Selma is now. We are not done. We do not live in a ‘post-racial’ society.

“People in communities like ours — like Westport — need to look at white privilege. We need to stand up, and stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Just as the Unitarians — and many other Americans — stood, and marched, in Selma 50 years ago.

(Hat tip: Doug Davidoff)

 

Lynsey Addario: A Pregnant Photographer Covers War, Famine, Other Horrors

Lynsey Addario — New York Times photojournalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur fellowship recipient, Westport native and Staples grad — has written a fascinating book. “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” provides great insight into what it’s like to cover war, famine and horror — and how being a woman has impacted every aspect of her professional and personal life.

This coming Sunday’s Times Magazine includes a long, compelling excerpt from the book. It begins with the harrowing account of being captured — along with fellow Staples grad and Times photographer Tyler Hicks — in 2011, by forces loyal to Muammar el-Qaddafi:

You have two options when you approach a hostile checkpoint in a war zone, and each is a gamble. The first is to stop and identify yourself as a journalist and hope that you are respected as a neutral observer. The second is to blow past the checkpoint and hope the soldiers guarding it don’t open fire on you.

The group’s young driver tried to avoid capture by yelling “Media!” It did not work.

Three weeks before her capture, Lynsey Addario photographed children amid the ruins of Benghazi. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Two weeks before her capture, Lynsey Addario photographed children amid the ruins of Benghazi. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

After providing harrowing details about their captivity, Lynsey describes the agonizing pull she felt between doing what she felt was her life’s mission, and her responsibility to her loved ones:

I had imposed unspeakable worry on my husband, Paul de Bendern, on more occasions than I could count. And Anthony [Shadid] and Steve [Farrell] each had infants at home. Yet as guilty as we felt, and as terrified as we were, only Steve sounded convinced by his own declaration that he would no longer cover war. Each one of us knew that this work was an intrinsic part of who we were: It was what we believed in; it governed our lives.

“We need to get to Tripoli,” Anthony said. “We will never get released if we don’t get to Tripoli. We will probably survive, it will be difficult, but we might live if we get there.”

“If we do, I am going to be so fat in nine months!” I cried out suddenly.

After more than a decade of feeling ambivalent about having a child, I knew that if we made it out of Libya alive, I would finally give Paul what he had been wanting since we married: a baby.

Later, she digs deeper into the lives of war correspondents:

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario

There was a lot of cheating in war zones, a lot of love and a lot of mistaking loneliness for love. But the reality was different for men and women. Most male war correspondents had wives or girlfriends waiting at home while they fooled around on assignment. Most female war correspondents and photographers remained single, searching fruitlessly for someone who would accept our devotion to our work.

My romantic life was colorful but difficult: I had an affair with a Cuban diplomat in New York, fell in love with an artist in Mexico City and had a relationship with an Iranian actor in Tehran, whom I could rarely get a visa to visit. But I gave only a finite part of myself to each of these men; work remained my priority, keeping me on the road 280 days a year. I began to assume that my relationships would end in affairs and heartbreak.

After meeting her husband, marrying, getting captured and then pregnant, Lynsey continued to work:

At four and a half months, Doctors Without Borders sent me to photograph its medical outreach for victims of the drought in the Horn of Africa, from the Turkana region to the Somali refugee camps at Dadaab in Kenya. Part way through the assignment, working in remote African villages, I could no longer button my pants. I was 20 weeks pregnant. The nausea and exhaustion were gone, my energy had returned and I was eating regularly, though careful to avoid harmful bacteria, which meant a diet of bread, rice, bananas and protein bars that I carried from home.

She continued on to Mogadishu, where the situation was far worse than even Kenya. She knew that if anything happened to her — 5 months pregnant — her editors and peers would write her off as “crazy and irresponsible.” But, she says, “I couldn’t leave that story of starvation untold.” She traveled on:

Something strange happened then: the baby that I had imagined as a pea or an avocado pit for weeks and weeks started kicking. He came to life inside me as I entered Somalia, a place where so many people were dying.

Lynsey Addario was pregnant while photographing a child dying from malnutrition in Mogadishu, in August 2011. (Photo/New York Times)

Lynsey Addario was pregnant while photographing a child dying from malnutrition in Mogadishu, in August 2011. (Photo/New York Times)

Working quickly — and trying to avoid kidnapping — she photographed the death of a 1 1/2-year-old boy from malnutrition.

His skeletal chest pumped up and down as he labored to breathe. His eyes rolled back into his head and then forward again as he focused on his mother. I knelt down beside the two women, introduced myself as a journalist and asked permission to photograph. They agreed. I began shooting as the two women put their hands on Abbas’s tiny frame and then onto his face. Each time that his eyes rolled back into his head, the women thought he was dead. To my horror, they began closing his tiny mouth with their hands, a premature death ritual. They were covering his eyes and closing his mouth. As I photographed, I felt my own baby inside of me, kicking and twisting.

In Gaza — caught in the frenzy of a prisoner exchange — Lynsey started to panic.

In the Muslim world, women and children are put on a protected pedestal, and pregnant women are slightly higher up on that pedestal. Naturally, no pregnant woman in Gaza would voluntarily be in that mix of madness, but it was too late to lament my stupidity. I had an idea: I threw my arms up in the air and screamed, “Baby!” and pointed down at my very round stomach with my index fingers on both hands. “Baby!” I screamed again, pointing down.

Lynsey Addario was 27 months pregnant in October 2010, when she photographed children in the Gaza Strip. (Photo/New York Times)

Lynsey Addario was 7 months pregnant in October 2010, when she photographed children in the Gaza Strip. (Photo/New York Times)

All the men around me momentarily paused. They looked at my face and then down at my stomach, and the seas parted. Spontaneously, they made a human gate around me, cocooning me from the crowd. And I continued shooting with my new bodyguards keeping watch over my unborn son and me.

Lukas Simon de Bendern was born perfectly healthy on Dec. 28, 2011, at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.

There is much, much more in this fascinating excerpt from an important book. To read the entire Times story, click here.

Danish House Follow-Up: No, No, It Really Is The Philippines!

This morning’s “06880” post — about the 1964-65 World’s Fair Danish Pavilion that ended up in Westport — started out:

It’s an urban suburban myth: The Philippines (or Indonesian) (or Danish) pavilion from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair ended up as a residence at the end of Compo Cove.

The piece described how the Danish pavilion actually became a Danish furniture store near the Sherwood Island connector. In the final paragraph, I wondered whether that was the same house everyone speculates is on Compo Cove.

I should have checked with Fred Cantor first.

The very alert “06880” reader/avid historical researcher sent along a document from 1991. The 11-page application to the National Park Service — signed by state historic preservation officer John Shannahan — requests that 22 buildings comprising the “Mill Cove Historic District” be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s the interesting part: One of the cottages at the south end of the district has “an unusual history. Originally, this building was a bamboo hut built for the Phillipine [sic] Exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition in the late nineteenth century [sic]; it was dismantled and re-erected on this site about 1900.”

(Well, a bit later. The Exposition was held in 1904.)

The houses that came from the Philippine Exhibit are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

The houses that came from the Philippine Exposition are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

But wait! There’s more! “A smaller cottage to the rear is also a re-built bamboo hut but it has retained its form and some exterior materials.”

UPDATEAlert reader SW Reid posted in a comment (below): “Brooks Jones built the guest house behind the ‘pavilion’ maybe 25 years ago. He wanted the unit to look like the original structure on the water.”

So there you have it. The house is Filipino, not Danish. But how and why it ended up in Westport remains a mystery.

Until, that is, Fred finds out.

BONUS FUN FACTSThe 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair — also called the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition — was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the US from France.

The Philippine Exhibit was the largest (47 acres, 100 buildings), most expensive ($2 million) and most popular at the entire fair.

A bird's-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

A bird’s-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

There were about 1,100 Filipinos at the Philippine Exhibit. They were shown in various stages of cultures, from primitive to highly cultured.

The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

(Hat tip to Virgilio R. Pilapil — and Google — for the above information. Read much more from him about the Philippine Exhibit by clicking here.)

Philippine Exhibition

 

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Coleytown, But Never Knew To Ask

Mary Gai is many things: an alert “06880” reader. A realtor. A lover of Westport history.

Those 3 elements come together in her fascinating story about the Coleytown neighborhood:

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw 277 North Avenue in the early 1980s. But I immediately knew I was looking at history.

Standing hundreds of feet from any road, the dramatic lines of the 1740s saltbox — constructed to avoid taxes the King of England imposed on 2-story houses — had not changed since it was built.

Amazingly, it still exists today — along with a carriage house, barn and surrounding acreage. The fact that it does is due to a series of little miracles. The first was that James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser bought sizable chunks of Coleytown starting in 1914, including this property.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

Westport would not be Westport if not for the Frasers.  They were the most famous residents of Westport ever (according to his 1953 obituary). The 1st polo games ever in Westport were held on their property. A year later they founded The Fairfield County Hunt Club.

They were also among the founders of the Westport Beach Club (now known as Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.

These politically active, internationally famous sculptors attracted to Westport a dizzying array of internationally famous visitors, including both Roosevelt first ladies, Edsel Ford, the Harvey Firestones, the Mayos, Averell Harriman, the George Patton family, famous poets, architects, writers, activists and philanthropists. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edwin Arlington Robinson lived with them in Westport for 15 years.

Public records reveal that the Frasers intentionally purchased property to keep their neighborhood quiet enough for their creativity. They then sold some land to other artists, effectively founding Westport’s famous artists colony.

Former Fraser student and famous sculptor Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar bought the old mill and barn on Coleytown Road in 1919. Kerr Eby, world-famous artist and pacifist, bought the Coley homestead from the Frasers in 1923, just a few hundred feet from the Fraser studios. The property that he named “Driftway” became the inspiration for many of his etchings (still sold today). He lived in his beloved old saltbox for the rest of this life.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Heir to the Montgomery Ward fortune Ward Thorne and his wife Judith bought Driftway from the Eby estate in 1949. They lived there for the rest of their lives as well. To insure that the property be taken seriously by historians, they donated it to the Antiquarian & Landmarks society.

The current sellers are true heroes of preservation. They stabilized and restored the magnificent saltbox, insuring that it will “live on” with its 5 working fireplaces, chestnut beams, floors and gorgeous woodwork. A family addition echoes the saltbox form, and adds functionality for today. They also purchased the old mill and barn to reunite the property and the main building components, which now includes 3 antique homes, 2 barns and 10.5 acres of the original farm homestead.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

The area is called “Coleytown” because of the Coley family. They farmed their land for 200 years, and had quite a sophisticated operation. Fresh water from the Aspetuck River helped grow grapes, flax, corn, onions and other crops.

The Coley wharf was located on the Saugatuck River just south of Gorham Island. Produce — including grain processed at the Coley mill — was transported on the Coley’s sloop “Nancy” to New York and Boston on a regular basis.

The c.1760 gristmill — replaced by steam power — became a cotton mill by 1840. Batting produced from Southern cotton was sent to manufacturers to fill the need for textiles in Northeastern cities. A piece of cotton mill apparatus still hangs from the barn rafters, and an original millstone decorates the riverfront landscape. A footbridge and waterfall create a gorgeous, unspoiled landscape.

The original mill house.

The original mill house.

The Frasers and 4 other owners of this property not only preserved the antique buildings and land along the Aspetuck River. They also preserved the largely forgotten village center, first called “Coley Ville.”

The mill and converted barn on Coleytown Road were the center of the little village. It included a small green, schoolhouse, shoemaker, blacksmith, yarn manufacturer, horse stables, 5 Coley homesteads, and probably a couple of other shops.

The original Coley homestead.

The original Coley homestead. (All photos courtesy of Mary Gai)

Today, the former village gristmill, barn and the Coley homestead are looking for new stewards. Let’s hope they preserve the character of this special neighborhood — one that has endured even longer than our nation itself.

(For much more information on the property, click here; then follow the “Driftway” links on the left.)

Paris Tragedy A Reminder Of Past Horrors

Last week’s horrific events in Paris touched every Westporter. We wondered how such things can happen. We talked about religion, freedom and humanity. We thought about France, and looked in new ways at America.

The news hit Westport’s Bart Shuldman and his wife wife Sue especially hard. In 1996 they were eyewitnesses to an IRA bomb that demolished a London bus.

Bart helped save the driver’s life. Nearly 20 years later, he remains haunted by the event. He calls such violence “truly devastating. It is worse than any picture could portray.”

That February day, Bart and Sue had just arrived in London. They boarded a taxi to their hotel. At a red light, a bus traveling from a different direction turned, then exploded right in front of them.

The taxi driver screamed. Bart and Sue watched in horror as the bus continued to travel, while opening up like a can.

The taxi driver asked what they should do. Bart said, let’s go help.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

Not knowing if there were more bombs, they followed the bus until it stopped.  The taxi stopped. Bart and the driver jumped out.

The driver grabbed a fire extinguisher, and went to one side of the bus. Bart went to the other side.

He heard noises. It was the bus driver, who had been hit from behind by the blast. The taxi driver, meanwhile, said he’d discovered a body in 2 parts, on fire. It was the bomber.

Bart got the driver out from the rubble, and carried him to the sidewalk.  His head was bleeding badly. Bart knew the victim could not hear him, so he had the man focus on Bart’s mouth. Bart wanted to keep talking, so the man would not pass out and die in his arms.

It took a while for an ambulance to arrive. Police and medics waited a long time, as people screamed there were more bombs.

Finally, Bart was escorted back to the taxi. Sue was there, scared. Bart at been gone nearly an hour.

The bus driver survived. But he never worked again.

“These acts are more violent than any TV news report can show,” Bart says. “The destruction is horrible. The impact to a body is something you cannot imagine.”

Nearly a decade later, he is not sure why he jumped in to help. Perhaps — just as the entire world is trying to make sense of the news from France — it takes a horrible tragedy for each of us, individually, to find out something about ourselves.

 

 

Veterans Day: The Sequel

Veterans never tire of serving their country — or their community.

Each year, Bedford Middle School marks today by hosting veterans from the Y’s Men. They talk about what they did, why and how they did it, and provide an important link to yesterday for tomorrow’s leaders.

This morning’s event was lively. A number of veterans brought mementos of their service. Their stories were insightful, poignant — and often laced with a bit of humor.

Among the attendees were the 2 most recent grand marshals of Westport’s Memorial Day parade: Leonard Everett Fisher (left, below), and Bob Satter.

Leonard Everett Fisher and Bob Satter

(Photo/January Stewart)

Both are World War II veterans. Though — except for their uniforms — you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.

Thanking Our Veterans, On Their Special Day

For some Westporters, Veterans Day is a holiday. For others, it’s business as usual.

No matter what today is, all of us — all Americans, really — should take time to reflect on the millions of men and women who, over the years, have sacrificed greatly to serve our nation, and the world.

Here are just a few of the many Westporters who deserve our deepest gratitude.

———-

In March of 1944 Emanuel (“Manny”) Margolis turned 18. He was a student at the University of North Carolina, but lacked a deferment. Drafted into the Army, he was chosen as a candidate for Officer’s Training School, and taught Morse Code.

Sent to England as a forward observer radio operator, he carried a 100-pound radio on his back. He weighed just 118.

PFC Manny Margolis, age 18 in June 1944.

PFC Manny Margolis, age 18 in June 1944.

He went to France and Belgium, to the Rhine River. The Germans had blown up all but 1 bridge crossing — a railroad bridge near Remagen. Made of wood, it was not meant to handle heavy tanks and artillery. The Army sent 100 engineers to remove dynamite, and shore it up.

Manny was among the first in his unit to be sent over the bridge. Radio operators had to report back to artillery how far to set their cannon fire.

Manny was not far into the woods on the other side of the bridge when the Germans began firing. He lay down behind a tree, and was shot through the leg and kneecap. He asked to be sent back to his unit, but his war was over. It was March 17, 1945 — 1 day before his 18th birthday.

The Army got some tanks and artillery over the bridge, but it collapsed with 100 engineers working on the underside. Many were killed.

Luckily, Manny’s leg was not amputated. He had 3 major operations in England, and more after returning home in the spring of 1946. He was awarded a Purple Heart, went back to UNC and graduated in 1947.

Manny Margolis, at a Town Hall ceremony. (Photo/Craig Skinner)

Manny Margolis, at a Town Hall ceremony. (Photo/Craig Skinner)

Thanks to the GI Bill, Manny went to Harvard. He earned a master’s and Ph.D. in international law. He taught at the University of Connecticut, then was accepted at Yale Law School with 1 phone call (no LSATs or interviews).

Manny worked for civil rights and civil liberties for 55 years, and lived nearly all his adult life in Westport. He died in August of 2011, at 85 years old.

———-

Stanley L. Englebardt landed on the beach at Normandy a couple of days after the initial assault. He saw action on the front line during the Battle of the Bulge. Initially a corpsman, he was put into infantry when the Germans broke through Allied lines in 1944. A longtime Westporter, he died this past March.

Stan Englebardt, age 18, soon after entering the Army.

Stan Englebardt, age 18, soon after entering the Army.

———-

Donald Snook was a B-17 pilot in the 369th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. He was stationed at Thurleigh Air Force based north of Bedford, England during World War II. He flew 24 missions over Europe, and remained there with the Occupational Air Force until July 1946.

Don is now 91. He lives in Westport with his wife, Katherine.

———-

Bob Beeby served in the South Pacific during peacetime, just after the Korean War.

Bob Beeby

Bob Beeby

As a naval aviator he flew an anti-submarine aircraft to hunt for typhoons. With technology less advanced than that in today’s Prius, he went through the walls of a typhoons 1,500 feet above sea level, directly into the eye. He took readings with a sextant, and radioed the storm location to the fleet, in case they had to relocate.

Aircraft were often damaged by storms. Pilots risked their lives on emergency landings. Bob was one of them.

He has lived in Westport for 50 years. He logged over a million air miles a year as CEO of the international division of a major corporation. He is generous in time and spirit, and a loving father and grandfather.

———-

Byron Miller was a Special Forces radio operator in Vietnam. For the past 38 years, he's been a psychotherapist  in, and resident of, Westport.

Byron Miller was a Special Forces radio operator in Vietnam. For the past 38 years, he’s been a psychotherapist in, and resident of, Westport.

———-

Tom Feeley at Fort Benning Airborne School, 1962.

Tom Feeley at Fort Benning Airborne School, 1962.

———-

Robin “Bob” Custer Sr.  graduated from technical school in 1965, with a degree in drafting. He then served in the Army, seeing combat duty with the 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in Vietnam from 1967 to ’68.

For years, Bob has played a big role in Westport. He’s been the sexton at Greens Farms Congregational Church for over 20 years (giving students on the Jennings Trail Tour the church  history), is quartermaster at VFW Post 399, and always marches in the Memorial Day Parade.

Bob Custer, standing amidst the flags he loves.

Bob Custer, standing amidst the flags he loves.

———-

Jay Dirnberger served with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, in 1968.

Jay Dirnberger served with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, in 1968.

 ———-

Kendall Gardiner Anderson was in Vietnam, with the U.S. Army

Kendall Gardiner Anderson was in Vietnam, with the U.S. Army

Kendall Gardiner Anderson's husband, Lt. Cdr. Robert Gavin Stewart Anderson, served in Cyprus with Her Majesty's Royal Navy. After moving to Westport and becoming a naturalized US citizen, he served his town on the Board of Finance and as second selectman.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson’s husband, Lt. Cdr. Robert Gavin Stewart Anderson, served in Cyprus with Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. After moving to Westport and becoming a naturalized US citizen, he served on the Board of Finance and as second selectman.

 ———-

And let’s not forget the Gilbertie family. John S. Gilbertie Sr. volunteered in World War I, and was awarded medals by the US, French and Italian governments for bravery.

He enlisted at 17 — just 12 years after emigrating from Italy — and served as a scout behind enemy lines in the Argonne forest, among other locations. He became a founding members of Westport’s Joseph J. Clinton VFW, was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade, and helped organize Memorial Day ceremonies on Jesup Green for many years. His name is on the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green (with the Italian spelling, “Ghiliberti”).

John’s son Mario went to Korea. Anthony, who was younger, was a member of the Army National Guard.

Several grandchildren also served. Jay was in Vietnam, and was a member of the 1st crew of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Marty was in the Navy CBs during Vietnam. Tom joined the Air Force in the 1980s, while Peter was in the infantry then.

Trevor — a great-grandson — recently returned from Afghanistan, with the Army National Guard.

———-

Thanks to all the Westport veterans we’ve mentioned — and the many, many others who also served proudly served us, over so many years.

 

Jean Donovan, Remembered

More than 3 decades after her brutal murder, Jean Donovan is back in the news.

The Westport native was 1 of 4 American churchwomen killed on December 2, 1980 by Salvadoran national guardsmen.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

Jean — a junior high and Staples High School classmate of mine — was a lay missionary working in El Salvador, helping the poor.

She and 3 nuns were beaten, raped, shot in the head, then dumped by the roadside.

Now, the New York Times reports that 2 Salvadoran generals — defense ministers during the “blood-soaked” 1980s — may be deported.

The Times says:

They were allowed to settle there during the presidency of George Bush, who, like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, considered them allies and bulwarks against a Moscow-backed leftist insurgency.

But administrations change, and so do government attitudes. Over the past two and a half years, immigration judges in Florida have ruled that the generals bore responsibility for assassinations and massacres, and deserve now to be “removed” — bureaucratese for deported. Both are appealing the decisions, so for now they are going nowhere. Given their ages, their cases may be, for all parties, a race against time.

Longtime Westporter John Suggs says that in progressive Catholic social justice networks, “Jean Donovan is considered a saint.”

A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University — a Jesuit school — supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

A tribute to Jean Donovan  and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

A tribute to Jean Donovan and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

But, Suggs says, “in Westport she is all but forgotten.” The few who remember her, and mourn her passing each December, believe she has been forgotten by her town, her school and her parish. (There is a brief mention of her, he says, in the back vestibule of Assumption Church. And Staples graduate Cynthia Gibb played a character based on Jean in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador.”)

The New York Times has shed a new light on Jean Donovan’s murderers. Perhaps next month, she will not be mourned by so few.

(The New York Times story includes a fascinating 13-minute video.)

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.