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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.