Westport’s Memorial Day parade lasted a bit over an hour. Bands thumped. Gymnasts jumped. First responders, first graders, and the first (and second, and third) selectmen) marched. Floats floated, fire horns tooted, and parents rooted for their young athletes, Scouts, musicians and more.
If you were there, you loved it. If you weren’t — why not?
Either way, you can relive the entire parade right now. Thanks to Nicholas Pisarro Jr., and his magic time-lapse software, you can do it in exactly 1 minute.
Just click on the video below. If you’ve got another minute to spare at the end, you can watch Nick Rossi Jr. — grandson of grand marshal Nick Rossi Sr. — sing the national anthem.
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.
First Selectman Jim Marpe, at today’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
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.
First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) watches Nick Rossi Jr. deliver the grand marshal speech for his grandfather, Nick Rossi Sr. (right). (Photo/Dan Woog)
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.
Thanks to all who submitted photos of today’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony. I received hundreds, and can’t run them all.
Today meant a lot to Westporters. It touched our hearts. It made us think about who we are, and what we want to be. And it made us deeply proud of our neighbors, our community, and all who have sacrificed to make this day possible.
World War II veterans like Joe Schachter had a special place of honor … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
… and there were several cars with them. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Navy veteran Rick Benson (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Leonard Everett Fisher (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Bill Vornkahl — a Korean War veteran — has organized over 65 Westport Memorial Day parades. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Boy Scouts honor the flag. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
The Fire Department held its annual ceremony, honoring its members who have served. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)
1st Selectman Jim Marpe leads the political contingent … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
… and the Blue Jays follow. (Photo/Whitney D’Angelo)
The Westport Paddle Club’s float echoed this year’s parade theme: Honoring Women in the Military. The WPC won “Most Creative Float” honors. (Photo/Robbie Guimond)
A Revolutionary War soldier (with sunglasses), aka Miggs Burroughs. One youngster — who really needs to learn history — asked, “Is he a pirate?” (Photo/Dan Woog)
Besides publishing (and taking photos for) Westport Local Press and working as an educator Jaime Bairaktaris volunteers as an EMT. He marched proudly with them today — and wore out his shoes. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Remarkable Theater founder Doug Tirola (left) and Marine Corps veteran Michael Calise share a taste in shirt themes. (Photo/Dan Woog)
There is more than a parade to Westport’s Memorial Day celebration.
Every year after the last firefighter, float and Brownie has passed Town Hall, a simple ceremony takes place across the way at Veteran’s Green.
The first selectman honors Westport veterans who died the previous year. There’s a police honor guard and wreath-laying. “Taps” is played.
The grand marshal speaks too. This year, 98-year-old World War II veteran Nick Rossi asked his grandson — also named Nick Rossi — to deliver those remarks.
It was an inspired choice. Nick Jr. — who graduated from Staples High School in 2020, and just completed his freshman year at Boston College — awed the crowd with insightful, inspiring words. Speaking powerfully and from the heart, he said:
Good morning, Westport!
My name is Nick Rossi, and I am the grandson of the grand marshal. It is my honor and privilege to share the stage today with my grandfather, Nicholas Rossi, as we celebrate him and all the veterans we remember today, on this very special Memorial Day holiday.
As most of you know, traditionally the grand marshal is called upon to share some remarks at this ceremony. My grandfather asked me to help him do so this morning, as it is a challenge for him (at almost 99 years of age) to manage this kind of public speaking engagement. So, with Mr. Vornkahl’s blessing, I’d like to share with you a few things I know about Nick Rossi, Senior.
Nick Rossi delivers remarks as his grandfather — the grand marshal — looks on. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Nicholas Rossi was born in Oyster Bay, New York in September of 1922. Soon after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served from December, 1942 through March, 1945. When he enlisted, he was 19 years old ~ the same age that I am right now. It is unimaginable to me what it must have felt like to go off to war as a young man who had barely begun to live his life. It was a selfless sacrifice, not even a choice at that point in time, but an expectation that that generation of young men would enlist and serve our country.
While his parents, who were immigrants from Italy, were filled with anxiety and reluctance, they let him go. Initially drafted into the Infantry, he found his way to the Air Corps. Thinking this was a “safer,” perhaps more elite assignment, he soon learned that there was nothing safe about fighting the war from the skies. His flight crew was part of the 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron, assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England which flew the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber in the European Theater. A technical sergeant, he flew multiple bombing missions over Nazi-occupied central Europe. He sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, handling fuel and mechanical issues, and trouble-shooting any technical problems. He became an expert on the B-17 aircraft.
Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.
As my grandfather has gotten older, his memory at times fails him. Yet he can still recount for us in amazing detail what it was like to be part of those terrifying missions, to be shot at relentlessly by the Germans, to watch his comrades fall from the sky under firestorm attack, and then to return from a mission to find that the airman who slept in the bunk above him never returned.
He talks about the attitude that eventually overtook these men — they were resigned to believe that there was a good probability that they, too, would eventually not make it back from the next mission…but they still climbed into their planes for the next flight, ready to go to battle to defend our country. These recollections are unfathomable to me, and to this day remain disturbing to him. He reminds us how awful war is, and what the price for peace really costs in terms of soldiers’ lives lost. It is on a day like today when we remember, with enormous gratitude, what these men (and women), and all the fallen veterans of war, did to guarantee our freedom, liberty, and democracy.
How do we even begin to thank them for their sacrifices?
Nicholas Rossi was discharged from the Army in March, 1945 but remained in Liege, Belgium after the war for several more years. As a civilian, he was employed by the government to work with the American Graves Registration Command for the purpose of locating and identifying unrecovered dead military personnel. “It was not a nice job,” but for my grandfather, it was important work to do, to stay behind and help account for the lost soldiers, as it provided closure for their families, many of whom eventually traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons, husbands, and brothers. Perhaps it provided some closure for him, too, after living through the horrors of World War II.
When we think about why Memorial Day was established in the first place back in the late 1800s, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the soldiers who died in defense of our country, it seems there is some kind of connection when I think of my grandfather working over the graves of his comrades – it was an emotionally devastating job, but it was his way of honoring them, of giving them dignity and respect, as these servicemen were the true heroes. We remember and honor them today.
Grand marshal Nick Rossi (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
Upon returning to the States in 1949,my grandfather attended Hofstra University on the GI Bill, earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering, and embarked on a career in the furniture industry which he pursued with great success for the next forty-plus years. He met his wife Elizabeth on Long Islandduring the early years of his professional career and married in 1956, raising five children in the house that he built in Mill Neck, New York. He remained very involved in his community on Long Island, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the Brookville Country Club. After my grandmother passed in 2018, my grandfather relocated to Westport to live with our family. While he still considers Oyster Bay his first home, he has truly enjoyed becoming a part of the Westport community. I have been lucky enough to spend more time with him, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, and I believe it’s nothing short of special that three generations of the Rossi lineage are under one roof. After many hours spent working out in the yard gardening or reading the newspapers together, I have picked up on some colorful Italian sayings — and insults — that I’ve brought back with me to campus, as my friends can attest.
Now in his 99th year, he is delighted to be this year’s grand marshal of the Westport Memorial Day parade, and on his behalf — I would like to extend his genuine gratitude to everyone in this town who has welcomed him, embraced him, and now today — honors him.
The Rossi family stands proudly at today’s Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo/Dan Woog)
In closing, I will echo a prayer that we say in our church, something called the “Prayer of the Faithful”: “For all the men and women who served in the armed forces, for those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, let us pray to the Lord.”
On behalf of this year’s grand marshal, my grandfather ~ Nicholas Rossi ~ Thank you for this honor! And thank you to all the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Grand marshal/grandfather Nick Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Last year, 20 first responders gathered at Veterans Day. A somber ceremony continued Westport’s decades-long Memorial Day celebration, in the midst of a global pandemic.
This year, crowds once again lined the parade route. Police, firefighters, EMTs, school bands, fifers and drummers, Boy and Girls Scouts, young soccer and baseball and lacrosse players, politicians — and many more — marched.
World War II and Korean War veterans rode proudly in convertibles.
Friends greeted each other. Newcomers marveled at what a small town Westport really is.
At the Veterans Green ceremony afterward, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe weaved together past Memorial Days, COVID, and this year’s celebration. He read the names of Westporters lost in the past year (including last year’s grand marshal, Patricia Wettach, a victim of the coronavirus).
This year’s grand marshal, World War II veteran Nick Rossi, was the man of the hour. His grandson, Nick Rossi, delivered a powerful speech. “Taps” rang out.
Westport is back. So is one of our town’s most cherished traditions. This is a Memorial Day we can never forget.
Grand marshal, 98-year-old World War II veteran Nick Rossi (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
WWII veteran, T/SGT Lawrence Aasen, 13th Airborne Division, age 98, at the ready. (Photo/Susan Aasen)
Getting ready for the parade (Photo/Ted Horowitz)
The vanguard of the parade turns onto the Post Road. (Photo/David Squires)
Mireille Perrin Delorey (21 months) at her first Memorial Day parade. (Photo/James Delorey)
In a thrilling gesture, Officer Eric Woods pulled Dylan Curran out of the crowd on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge to march with the Westport Police Department. (Photo/Rosanna Jon)
Dylan stands proudly with Chief of Police Foti Koskinas, and his force. (Photo/Stacie Curran)
Westport Emergency Medical Service (Photo/Matthew Slossberg)
Post Road collage (Photo/Burton Stuttman)
One fife and drum corps … (Photo/Irene Mastriacovo)
… and another, in a timeless shot. (Photo/Stan Witkow)
Post Road salute (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)
Go Blue Sox! (Photo/Molly Alger)
Surprise! (Not!) Once again, the always creative Y’s Men won the grand prize in the float contest. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Former 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings (front) and friends.
Decades from now, these youngsters can say they saw World War II veterans at a Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Dan Woog)
For over 60 years, Korean War veteran Bill Vornkahl has organized Westport’s Memorial Day parade. This morning, he acknowledged the crowd’s sustained applause. (Photo/Dan Woog)
The photo below shows the World War II memorial on Veterans Green, across from Westport Town Hall, where a ceremony takes place after today’s parade (approximately 10:30 a.m.). Other monuments there honor veterans of other wars.
If you’ve been to a Memorial Day ceremony on Veterans Green, you know how meaningful and powerful it is. If you’ve never been: make this the year.
In one more sign of approaching normalcy, the town is moving forward with plans for an actual Memorial Day parade.
This year’s theme for the float contest is “Honoring Women Veterans.” Certificates will be awarded for Best Development of Theme, Best Youth Organization Float, Most Creative, Best Community Organization, Most Colorful, and the Best Overall Float.
If past form holds true, the Y’s Men will win the Overall award. They’ve won it nearly every year for the past 20 or so.
And the only reason the Y’s Men did not win in 2020, 2017 or 2016 was because there were no parades. (COVID last year; rain those other 2.)
Weather and COVID permitting, this year’s event begins at 9 a.m. on May 31, at Saugatuck Elementary School. Veterans — and thousands of others — will march north on Riverside Avenue, trn right on Post Road East, then continue to Myrtle Avenue.
The Y’s Men’s float won, as usual, in 2012. This one honored Korean War veterans — complete with freezing mist.
Longtime Westport resident Judith Portner Sappern died peacefully on Saturday. She was 88 years old.
The Rumson, New Jersey native was an adventurer who, after serving as managing editor of her high school newspaper, took the unusual step at the time to go out of state for college. A
t the University of Connecticut she served as president of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, made lifelong friends and fell in love with Donald Sappern. Married shortly after graduation, they started a telephone answering service in Norwalk. As Don’s career progressed and he became a successful insurance executive, Judy managed office operations and bookkeeping.
As the couple’s children grew, Judy helped with their studies and supported every interest, from the choir room and pool to the baseball diamond and the rock band that practiced in the basement. She fed generations of Staples High School students who used their nearby house on Wedgewood Lane as a home base throughout the day.
Judy pursued a master’s degree in social work, and volunteered at Norwalk Hospital. She loved helping others work through tough times, and passed that empathy on to her children. When not at the hospital or office, Judy worked on needlepoint, and played golf or bridge with friends. She also became a personal computer enthusiast and fanatical supporter of UConn basketball.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Donald, and her older sister Joyce Cooper. Judy is survived by her children, Laurie Sappern Gaugler (Dean), and Matthew (Rianne), both of Fairfield, and Adam (Margot)of Bethel, Vermont. Judy enjoyed frequent visits and calls with her 7 grandchildren: Billy, Chloe, Brian, Geoffrey, Rachel, Carly and Tobey. She is also survived by her beloved sister-in-law, Pietrina Sappern of Milford.
A memorial service will be held when travel and gathering is less limited. Memorial contributions in Judy’s memory can be made to the IGA Nephropathy Foundation, PO Box 1322, Wall, New Jersey 07727.
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