Our Vets

An avid “06880” reader sent this along:

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I didn’t really have an appreciation for what that meant — until I befriended a real, live vet.

After all, what did I know about “veterans”? I had a typical upper-middle-class suburban upbringing:  a child of the ‘70s, teenager of the 80’s, raised in mostly peacetime, privileged hometowns similar to Westport.

No one in my immediate family had served.  My father was drafted before I was born.  He spent several months in the naval service in Michigan in 1960, nowhere near combat).

Viet Nam was a distant, black-and-white memory:  Walter Cronkite relaying various strategic losses in Cambodia and Phnom Penh — remote places on the other side of the world that had nothing to do with me.

As a teenager and young adult, I was pretty much oblivious to Veteran’s Day.  Sometimes I had the day off from work, sometimes not.

Tom Feeley -- one of Westport's many proud veterans.

Recently, I started working with a fellow, someone much older than me, who had served in Viet Nam.  I learned how important his military service was to him, to the person that he had become. Out of deference and respect, I patiently listened to his tales of service — his “war stories.”

They were pretty interesting!  Exotic encounters with Vietnamese; confrontations with Viet Cong; near-death experiences with land mines, road bombs, ambushes; life in the Mekong Delta.  He relished sharing his stories of what life in the military had taught him.

Next, I started going to the Memorial Day parade here in Westport, especially since one year my friend was marching.  I was struck by the dignity and pride of the servicemen and women marching in the parade.  I even visited the VFW a couple of times (how many Westporters have ever seen the inside of that building?).

Several years ago I was privileged to accompany my dear friend, and an elderly friend of his, to Bedford Middle School in November.  It was a little-known event, at which local vets are invited to speak with 8th graders about their military experiences.

My friend thoughtfully prepared his presentation, candidly sharing his insights with the students. His friend, a WWII vet, spoke more extemporaneously, sometimes breaking down unabashedly in front of the youngsters.

It struck me then that these 2 handsome elderly gentlemen were once fresh-faced, optimistic youngsters, barely older than our seniors at Staples, when they confronted these tremendous trials – and even the prospect of death – all at an age when my greatest worry was paying the rent on my studio apartment in Manhattan.

Last year, for the first time, I attended the Veterans Day ceremony at Town Hall.  I watched the proud men and women who had served stand tall when their branch of the service was recognized, get slightly teary-eyed at the playing of “Taps,” and greet each other gleefully like members of a fraternity or sorority at the conclusion.  They made it back.  They survived.

Remarkably, they were humble.  They even demurred slightly when I said, “thank you for your service.”  It was as if it were all in a day’s work.

I hope you tried it yourself.  I hope you made your Veterans Day meaningful.  If you had to work, I hope you thanked the veterans you know at your workplace.

If you were fortunate to get the day off, I hope you attended the ceremony at Town Hall.

If not, please think about doing so next year.  It will make you proud to be an American.

And you’ll certainly be in good company.

18 responses to “Our Vets

  1. Lisa Marie Alter


    There were a number of people at the ceremony yesterday who queried why this ceremony isn’t part of the school curriculum (eg. a school assembly) so the students can be a part of the remembrance and honoring of Westport’s veterans.

    This year would have been a slam-dunk with Sean Gallagher, Staples soccer star and future Naval Academy student…! (He gave an outstanding, heart-felt address, too…I’m sure his classmates would’ve have appreciated hearing it.)

    Any ideas ?

  2. Wow… and “Thank You, Westport.”
    Ever since we [my wife, Sandy, was an Army Nurse in Vietnam] moved here in 1973, Westport has been a Veteran Friendly Town with a small VFW on Riverside Avenue down by the water, lots of flags, and a platoon of WWII veterans who served with honor and returned with pride. Not so with us Vietnam veterans… no honor, no pride.

    Imagine being in uniform in an airport or airplane where no one talked with you, where eyes were averted, where you felt like a leper. Then I spent two years in Boston at the Harvard Business School where the students held “peace protests” on a daily basis. And I would think: “I got my rear end shot at so you could call me names? They should send your rear end over there.“

    But here in Westport, all veterans are not only welcomed, but embraced. At Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Bedford Middle School we tell our tales to the students to smiles and thanks, to coffee and cake. Yesterday, at Town Hall, Gordon Joseloff, Jonathan Steinberg, and Al Fiore all shook my hand and said: “Thank you for your service.” They meant it.

    After awhile, maybe 40 years or so, the pain and indignity you felt goes away. Thanks, Westport.

    And I got my photo taken with Al Fiore… gonna put a copy in my wallet with my driver’s license… hey, ya never know 🙂

  3. What a wonderful article. I love that Westport is a veteran friendly town. My husband was an Army Ranger. He was in Panama, and while many don’t remember it, he certainly did. He was in jungle combat at 18 years old. He was also in Desert Storm and Somalia. My dad was in the National Guard, and my grandfather was in WWII. My grandfather trained the attack dogs (dobermans)! I have always been one to appreicate all soldiers, police and fire fighters, they are admirable and brave men and women … to say the least. But, when I hear the stories of all my husband went through, it absolutely brings an even deeper respect and honor. I am so proud of my husband, my father and my grandfather and if the little girl in my belly says, “Mom, I want to be in the Army” my heart will be full of pride.

    We are here typing away and working away and expressing our opinions and doing everything we do for one reason … there are men and women brave enough to protect us and our freedoms. It is a truly selfless act.

  4. The Dude Abides

    I am a Vietnam Veteran (Det Bravo, air recon) and very proud of my service to my country. I have long been a proponent of a mandatory two year committment of every 18 year old in this country to serve the United States in some fashion: Peace Corps, Vista, community service or the military. I do believe it builds a strong patriotism and a true sense of what it is to be an American.
    It is easy to wave the flag, put those Chinese-made “Support The Troops” bumper stickers on your car and sing “God Bless America” loudly along with Kate Smith at the Stadium. But try spending two or four or six years of your life in total dedication to a way of life that is very much contrary to the normal existance of citizens. Many other countries have such a committment and I know we had a German exchange student who lived with us, who swore by it. I remember his words: “It made me grow up when I needed to grow up and it gave me a sense of my country’s deep history, of which, I am deeply ashamed.” To my brothers in combat and to the writer of the blog letter, God Bless.

    • Dude:

      Belated Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service. I agree 100% that mandatory service should be instituted. I believe it is the key to reconnecting the younger generation to what it means to be an American. My bias for those choosing not to serve in the military is to “At Home” service, where young people live and work in a domestic community other than the one they grew up in, with the goal of breaking down the polarization and divisions that I think are tearing the country apart. I wish I knew how to make it happen.

    • Dude–I am with you 100%, and have had similar feelings for some time. My dad, who served in the Pacific in WWII, talked about the need for shared sacrifice a long, long time ago. Maybe your concept is one thing the Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

    • Dude–on an unrelated note, will you be back for Monday’s 2pm Staples soccer game? I am hoping to be there, so maybe we can meet then. I will have on my red OSU Buckeyes cap, and will be sitting in a blue beach chair directly behind the built-in benches on the hill, maybe 10 yards to the right of the video camera.

      • The Dude Abides

        Will be there. Since my lady’s godfather is John Glenn, will recognize the Buckeye sombrero from afar.

  5. I have an 8th grade son at Bedford and he came home from the Vets’ presentations and talked to me in detail about what each had said. He really wanted to discuss it. Oone of his uncles is a retired career Army officer who served three tours of duty in Viet Nam and his cousin, a career army intelligence officer served in Baghdad for 15 months, but both of them are silent about their experiences, which has been a source of mystery to him. I have told him that war is extremely painful to experience and probably very painful to recall, especially to satisfy the curiosity of people who have not been through the same crucible. We ask something tough when we ask people to relate their war experiences and they are generous and brave to do it.
    Our family watches The Lehrer Report together each night and at the end of the program we all fall silent as a list of the name, rank, hometown and age of each soldier who has died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq is posted, usually with a picture for each. We notice the towns they come from, and that sometimes we have seen the name of that small town before next to another soldier’s picture. It is a small thing to do, but we try to keep in the forefront of our minds how many people are at risk in the service of our country. Really, they deserve so much more .

  6. Dude,

    Totally agree with you! BTW my soldiers are coming home in time for Christmas – I was a little concerned when I hadn’t heard from them for
    awhile, and I wrote my contact in the Adopt-A-Soldier program and she
    re-assured me that the reason I hadn’t heard was for security reasons.
    They are not allowed to tell you exactly when they are coming home – so the
    sudden silence is a good thing indeed.

  7. The Dude Abides

    Sensible One: Indeed, good news. My “adopted” Marine is home safe and hopefully, sound. The electric candle still shines brightly in my bay window every night, however. It would be the greatest gift if all the troops could be home for Christmas.

    • Linda Gramatky Smith

      My husband, Kendall Smith, has kept the electric candle shining bright in our kitchen window where passersby on Roseville Road can see it. When he first lit it, years ago, it was as a way to show solidarity with all the others in town who hoped all the soldiers would come safely home from Iraq (and later, Afghanistan). But as he says, he’s never seen another candle in a Westport window! Glad to hear you did the same thing, Dude!

    • I love the Dude.

  8. Ann Marie Flynn

    Another light way to say ‘thank you for protecting us’ to our wonderful vets….when you see one, two or more in a coffee shop, chating away…graciously pick up their tab…and, let them know you are doing it out of gratitude for what they did for you. It’s a nice surprize and they know they are not forgotten.

  9. Ann Marie,
    What a great suggestion… maybe Dan will post our dining schedule ? 🙂