This morning, Jim Marpe addressed Westporters at his 8th — and final — Memorial Day ceremony as first selectman. He said:
Thank you to Westport’s “Mr. Parade,” Bill Vornkahl, for helping to organize our Memorial Day Parade once again this year.
Reverend Sinclair, Representatives of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 69, Grand Marshal Nick Rossi, and to all of you gathered today. It is my honor to welcome you to our traditional Memorial Day ceremony to remember and honor those who have sacrificed to serve to our country. We are very grateful to come together again.
Last year I stood here with just 20 people, including Bill Vornkahl and the leadership of our first responders, to make sure our tradition was never broken. It wasn’t what we wanted or were used to, but I am glad to say that we continued the Memorial Day remembrance on Veterans Green.
As we emerge from the darkness of the COVID tunnel, it is vital to re-establish our traditions and make sure that as a community we remember those who fought and died for the freedoms we hold dear.
In Westport, the struggle against COVID appears to be in the final weeks, but we remain vigilant. We understand and respect the need to safeguard our own health as well as the health of others. That vigilance is the essence of who we are as a people and what we celebrate and honor today.
While the circumstances are different, the vigilance we have borne as our responsibility is akin to the vigilance manifested by the men and women in the armed forces during our wars and conflicts.
World War II was the last war in which people at home were required to sacrifice so dramatically. Gas was rationed, food in short supply. For many, work changed to reflect the needs of war. COVID 19 represented a war in which we have all been challenged to change our lives dramatically. We were all called upon to sacrifice. Some of us were on the front line, caring for the sick, working in dangerous situations, enduring loneliness and separation from families, facing the unknown.
Historically, wherever we perceived enemies to threaten us we have rallied around the cause. Men and women from all walks of life stepped forward to battle threats to our country. COVID 19 was a shocking new threat, and in response, parts of government not historically in the forefront rushed to assist. Not just our usual first responders, to whom we owe a great deal of gratitude, but also our Health District and Human Services Department that reached out to those in our community in particularly grave need.
And we are proud of our children, who have had to change their lives because of COVID. They understand what sacrifice can mean. They have learned to behave in a way that is beneficial to the greater society- their school mates, their teachers, their friends and their families. That change was for us all, unforgettable.
Death and illness were real fears, sacrifice and caution were daily watchwords. Remote learning, mask wearing, loss of sporting and performance events, teammates, traditional proms and for so many, the unforgettable pain of the loss of people and loved ones who died. In Westport, we lost 31 people to COVID, and many lost beloved family members who live elsewhere, some to whom they could not say “goodbye” or “I love you.”
The theme of our parade today is honoring women’s veterans. That theme was set for last year’s parade and reinstated for this year. We want to emphasize the critical role women have played in the armed services, at times without the recognition they deserved. We also recognize the critical role women have played in the war against COVID 19, both in and out of the home. In addition to maintaining essential financial support, our mothers have had to keep families as safe as possible and establish a new routine while life was so uncertain.
Last year we intended to honor Patricia Roney Wettach as our grand marshal, who, unfortunately, has passed away, a victim of COVID 19. This year we honor Nick Rossi, a relative newcomer to Westport and an active member of our Senior Center, whose grandson, a Staples High School graduate, just sang the National Anthem. Nick, who is 99 years old, was a WWII flight engineer flying multiple missions and was shot at by enemy fire – a notable example of bravery under stress.
And now, as has been our tradition, I would like to make special mention of those military veterans who lived in Westport and who have passed away this past year, with apologies in advance for any we may have inadvertently omitted. Heroes all: John R. Anastasia, Jr.; Alan Beasley; Sam Brownstein; Charles Joseph French Sr., Charles James Kashetta Sr.; Vincent D. Palumbo; Robert P. Scholl; P. Richard Schwaeber; Jack Shiller; Jules Spring; Gary W. Vannart; Theodore Robert Voss; Patricia Roney Wettach; Kenneth Ray Wolfe Jr.
I would be remiss if I did not honor others in our community who passed away this year, who, while not veterans, were civil servants and played a significant role in making Westport the great town that it is. These include former First Selectmen Gordon Joseloff and John Kemish, Martha Aasen, former Deputy Police Chief Vinnie Penna, and longtime VFW Auxiliary member Nancy Coley. Like our great veterans, we honor and recognize their special contributions.
Today we see a reduced presence of all that is traditional for this day, but we are still aware of the lessons learned and the sacrifices we have made. It is a proud day for Westport. I urge you to celebrate this day as one we have looked forward to for a long time – the beginning of the end of the long COVID struggle.
God bless you; God bless Westport ,and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.