Betsy Kravitz celebrates Memorial Day, on South Compo Road…
… and with hands over hearts, a socially distanced crowd heart Gettysburg College junior Sophia Bookas play “Taps” this afternoon, at Saugatuck Sweets…
… while not far away, Lt. Ryan B. Weddle of the US Naval Reserves and his sons John and Ben — Cub Scouts, and Greens Farms Elementary School students — decorated veterans’ graves at Christ & Holy Trinity Cemetery.
They honored Joseph J. Clinton, who died in France during World War I, and for whom the local VFW Post 399 is named for, as well as John H. Darrow, 28th Connecticut Volunteers, who was killed in Baton Rouge during the Civil War.
Lt. Weddle and his sons also placed US and Navy flags at Westport’s World War I and World War II memorials, at Veterans Green.
And this year — for the first time in the 50 years he has organized Westport’s annual parade and tribute to fallen service members — the entire event was canceled, due to COVID.
But his family arranged a socially distanced cookout in the driveway of his Cross Highway home.
And in mid-morning — just like every year at Town Hall — Vornkahl heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”
Nick Rossi sings the national anthem.
The national anthem was sung stirringly by Nick Rossi. The 2019 Staples High School graduate — now a student at Boston College — is a veteran of Veteran’s Green. He played and sang at last year’s ceremony.
The mournful brass notes were sounded by Sam Atlas. The 2018 Staples grad is a trumpet major at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she plays in the orchestra, wind ensemble and chamber groups.
Sam Atlas plays “Taps.”
It was a fitting tribute for the man who is Westport’s “Mr. Memorial Day.” And he responded as any soldier would:
Around this time every year, I post photos from that day’s Memorial Day parade.
The collection shows so much of what makes Westport a community: a parade filled with kids and parents, cops and soldiers and fife-and-drummers; a meaningful ceremony on aptly named Veteran’s Green; flags, fun and a history-themed Y’s Men float that always wins the grand prize.
This year’s Memorial Day is different. A global pandemic — the worst since influenza ravaged the planet during World War I — has forced us apart. There will be no Little Leaguers (or Little League) today. There are no big parties. There’s no a grand marshal, no reflective speech, no moving, mournful “Taps.”
Next year we’ll again come together to honor our war heroes, and celebrate our history. In the meantime, let’s reflect on the meaning of today.
And look back on Memorial Days in Westport, from the past.
The 2019 Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands, (Photo/Sarah Tamm)
The reviewing stand. Last year’s grand marshal Nick Zeoli is at far right. (Photo/Dan Woog)
A Myrtle Avenue home honors the holiday. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Ed Vebell was one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. He served as the 2016 grand marshal.
Westport’s state champion 10-and-under softball team, and the 12-and-under runners-up, in 2016.
The dougbhoy statue in Veterans Green honors World War I service members. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
RTM member Andrew Colabella
Longtime parade organizer Bill Vornkahl talks with a veteran. (Photo/Kat Soren)
Alex Merton is captivated by a fife and drum corps. (Photo/Fred Cantor)
A Staples High School bugler plays “Taps.”
Troop 39 Boy Scouts lead the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2016, rain forced the ceremony indoors, at Town Hall.
.2015. (Photo/John Hartwell)
Staples High School band, 1971,
1st Selectman Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Also in front, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney.
A scene from 1962. The young man in front with the camera is future 1st Selectman (and CBS news correspondent, and WestportNow publisher) Gordon Joseloff. He ws covering the event for the Westport Town Crier newspaper.
Girl Scouts, 1955.
Leonard H. Gault driving fire truck in a 1920s parade, by Willowbrook Cemetery.
Bonus feature: One of the best Veteran’s Day speeches ever was Howard Munce’s. In 2008, the grand marshal said:
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.
Bill Vornkahl, at last year’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Carmine Picarello)
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)
Yesterday, the town announced a special virtual Memorial Day celebration for tomorrow (Monday, May 25).
At 9 a.m., a 17-minute video will be broadcast on Cablevision channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. It will be posted later on the town’s Facebook page.
But hey: Want a sneak peak? It’s already on the Town of Westport’sYouTube channel!
It sounds like our middle and high school bands were captured live. But the story is far more complex — and difficult — than that.
One screenshot from Westport’s virtual Memorial Day parade …
Bedford Middle School band teacher Lou Kitchner takes us behind the scenes:
Due to the COVID-19 school closure, Westport students have been unable to participate in traditional school experiences that were a significant part of their daily activities — like music classes.
To address this problem, and also honor Westport’s fallen heroes and veterans, grade 6-12 band directors James Forgey, Gregg Winters and Phil Giampietro and I designed a way for students to share their musical talents via a digital performance.
Clockwise from upper left: Gregg Winters, Lou Kitchner, Phil Giampietro, James Forgey.
We created and posted a play-along audio track, with an embedded metronome click, on their class websites. Students practiced their individual parts by playing along with the audio accompaniment.
After a week or two of practice, 165 students recorded their individual performances, just as professional studio musicians do. They used whatever technology they had available: a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
All 165 submissions were then imported into multi-track music software by the teachers. Next the band directors aligned and edited them in time with the song’s tempo, and mixed them down into a single ensemble performance track.
The individual mixes — 6th, 7th and 8th grades, and the combined Staples High School bands — were then combined into one complete grade 6-12 performance. I am so proud of these kids! It sounds like they were all together, in one room.
To complement the audio, we asked students to submit photos of themselves holding or performing their instrument — in school or town- related attire if possible (school closure prevented them from accessing uniforms or school-specific parade t-shirts).
… and another.
Staples media teacher Geno Heiter then spent hours merging all the photos with the final ensemble mix to create the final product: a virtual Memorial Day parade!
Westport has won 7 straight “Best Community for Music Education” awards, from a national foundation. After this effort, they should just name it after us and retire it forever.
On Monday we won’t see military veterans, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, politicians, Little Leaguers, Suzuki violinists, or the Y’s Men’s fantastic float.
We’ll miss crowds along the parade route, a grand marshal waving to crowds, stirring speeches and mournful “Taps” across from Town Hall.
COVID has knocked out Westport’s Memorial Day traditions.
That’s okay. We’ll have a virtual Memorial Day parade and ceremony on Monday anyway.
At 9 a.m., a 17-minute video will be broadcast on Cablevision channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. It will also be available on the town website (westportct.gov), and posted on the Town of Westport Facebook page.
The video will loop all day on TV after its 9 a.m. debut. It will be available on Facebook forever too, it seems.
..A classic scene from Westport’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)
1st Selectman Jim Marpe thanks the Bedford Middle School band and town band teachers, Police Department Honor Guard, and artists and crew for making the production possible.
As Memorial Day weekend arrives during this difficult time, it is as important as ever to take a few moments to remember those servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.
Obviously, the current conditions in the world dictate how we memorialize and honor those veterans. In the upcoming days, I encourage everyone to reflect and give thanks to the men and women who served and continue to serve in the military. We cannot celebrate together, but we can collectively in spirit celebrate their heroism in our own individual ways.
Two years ago, grand marshal Larry Aasen spoke about the horrors of war.He’ll join many Westporters on Monday, honoring the holiday virtually. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
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