As a junior at Syracuse University’s College of Fine Arts, Tracy Sugarman had a great time. He was on the lacrosse team, was dating a wonderful woman named June — “it was all Joe College,” he says.
Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
The next day, Tracy and a fraternity brother took a bus to Buffalo. When they returned to campus, they were in the Navy Reserve.
He was allowed to finish school. But 2 days after graduation — May 13, 1943 — Tracy headed to midshipman’s training at Notre Dame.
Within the next 4 months he married June, became an officer, trained crews in Maryland for D-Day, then headed overseas for more training along the coast.
“We kept ‘invading’ England,'” Tracy recalls. “Then one day, it was time to invade France.”
June 6, 1944 was “extraordinary,” says Tracy. “There were 3,000 planes, and 3,000 ships — as far as the eye could see.”
The day was sunny, but the seas rough. They circled until 3 p.m. Everyone was seasick. As an officer, Tracy had to pretend he was fine.
“Finally we hit the beach,” he says. “It was just awful.
“It was noisy. It was smoky. Ships were blowing up. There were bodies in the water.”
Tracy made his was through the maze of iron. He kissed the ground, then returned to the assembly area.
He spent the next 6 months unloading ships, working with troops, ammunition and hospitals.
Finally — with the ports secured — he helped 2 other officers close up Utah Beach. He went back to England.
On April 12, 1945 he had to announce to his ship that Franklin Roosevelt had died. Most of the sailors had never known another president.
“I was 23,” Tracy says. “I took 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds to the D-Day beach. They looked at me — the ‘old man’ — to take care of them.”
That’s a theme he’ll return to on Memorial Day. As grand marshal of Westport’s parade, Tracy Sugarman will give a keynote address across from Town Hall. If you’ve never stuck around for the event — shame on you. This year in particular, it’s a speech you should hear.
“We send kids to war,” Tracy will emphasize. “It’s not John Wayne. It’s kids, like those in Staples right now.”
Tracy is honored to be chosen as grand marshal. “I’ve marched in the past with my son’s Boy Scout troops. During Vietnam, I marched wearing a black armband.”
Tracy calls Westport’s Memorial Day parade “a great community event. I love it. Kids show themselves off — and then everyone gathers around the statue” at the park across from Town Hall.
There are 1,650 names of Westporters from World War II on the honor roll there. Another 250 served in World War I.
“That’s very impressive,” Tracy says. “A lot of people paid a lot of dues.”
At 89 — and a Westport artist and author for 61 years — Tracy laughs that the military hat, shirt and pants he’ll wear will be “too tight.” Maybe, he says, “my voice will be too.”
But his children, grandchildren and friends will come hear him speak. Hundreds of Westporters will follow the parade to the park, to hear him too.
“I take the day seriously,” he says. “It’s a time for looking backward — and then forward.”
With — thanks to Tracy Sugarman — a message that is timeless.