For decades, Memorial Day in Westport has meant one thing: Bill Vornkahl.
For half a century, he’s run one of our town’s most beloved traditions. Now 90 years old, he spent 14 months in Japan during the Korean War as a high-speed radio operator.
He joined Westport’s American Legion Post 63 in 1953, and the Westport Veterans Council a few years later. He first organized the parade in 1970. In 2013 he was inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.
From 1996 to ’99 he was treasurer of Westport’s War Monument Committee, helping place memorials to various wars on Veterans Green.
Today has always been the most important day of the year for Bill Vornkahl. This year, it’s especially tough. Instead of a community-wide parade, Westporters are forced to remain apart.
His wife died a short while ago too, just before what would have been their 66th anniversary.
So as we think of all our veterans, let’s give special thanks to Bill Vornkahl. And what better way to honor him — and all service members — than with the poem he always recites at the Veteran’s Green ceremony after the parade.
It is the soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of press.
It is the soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
(Poem by Charles H. Province. Hat tip: Janine Scotti)