America’s living link to World War II veterans is rapidly diminishing. Nearly 500 servicemen and women from that conflict die every day.
Yet when Joe Schachter rises Monday to deliver Westport’s Memorial Day address, he will stand steady. The 90-year-old’s voice will be strong.
Schachter — the grand marshal of this year’s parade — is living proof of the power of an active, full life.
The South Norwalk native graduated from Norwalk High in 1943. There were plenty of empty seats at the ceremony; many classmates had gone off to war.
Schachter — who loved the water since childhood, when he fished in a rowboat with his dad and was a Sea Scout — had already enlisted in the Navy. He trained at Trinity College in Hartford (which had been turned into a naval installation), then finished midshipman school at Cornell.
He served — and took enemy fire — on the Wilkes Barre cruiser in Tokyo Bay, and along the Manchurian border.
After the war Schachter returned to Trinity, graduating in December 1947. He spent 30 years in advertising, in Hartford and New York, on accounts like Ford and Eastman Kodak, and moved to Westport to raise a family.
Long Island Sound was always an important part of his life. In the late 1960s Longshore’s E.R. Strait Marina was silted so badly, he and other boaters could get in and out only at mid or high tide.
Schachter helped form the Minuteman Yacht Club. As “the voice of boaters,” they pushed the town to improve the Longshore and Compo marinas. First Selectman John Kemish appointed him to the town’s 1st Boating Advisory Committee too.
The Compo marina — now named for former Board of Finance chair Ned Dimes — includes some of Schachter’s own docks. In the mid-1970s he learned of a new type of construction — using floating concrete, instead of rickety wood — and embarked on a 2nd career.
His Norwalk-based Concrete Flotation Systems company introduced floating concrete docks to the Northeast — and as far as Greenland and Bermuda. For 20 years he worked on projects for the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. He’s most proud of his 400th installation: the one at Compo.
The grand marshal — who has lived in the same house for 50 years, not far from Compo Beach — is well known too for his volunteer efforts with the Saugatuck River Power Squadron. “Safety on the water is important,” he says. “You can’t just buy a boat and go out on the Sound.”
Schachter was also an active member of the Norwalk Seaport Association. He helped start the Oyster Festival, and served as chair of the Maritime Center’s marketing committee.
Off the water, Schachter spent several decades advocating for rail passengers. He helped found the Commuter Action Committee. As a member of the statewide Rail Advisory Task Force, he served 3 governors.
Schachter is honored to be named grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. He follows in the footsteps of good friends like fellow WWII vets Barry McCabe, Leonard Everett Fisher and Neil Croarkin.
A few days ago, he was still writing his speech. “It’s easy to stand up and say a few platitudes,” he noted. “I want to do more than that.”
After Monday’s ceremony, he may join many other Westporters in a Memorial Day tradition: a trip to Compo Beach.
“I’m so pleased to drive by, and see how it serves people,” he says.
Just as Joe Schachter has served his town — and his country — for so many years, in so many ways.
(The Memorial Day parade steps off on Monday [May 30], 9 a.m. at Saugatuck Elementary School. The Veteran’s Green ceremony at which Joe Schachter will speak begins immediately after the parade, approximately 10:30 a.m.)