Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Honoring Young Veterans’ Sacrifices

Yesterday was Veterans Day. For several years, Staples assistant principal Rich Franzis arranged assemblies, speakers and other events at his school to mark the day.

This year, former Staples teacher — and US Army Ranger — Dan Geraghty invited Franzis to participate at Geraghty’s current school, Easton/Redding’s Joel Barlow High.

Franzis brought along 2 Staples grads. Both are from the Class of 2005. Both joined the Marine Corps.

“At the point in their lives when most 18-year-olds are thinking about summer jobs, the beach and an upcoming transition to college,” Franzis noted, “each of them wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of up to, and including, their life.”

All-State football player Pat Scott served 2 tours of duty in Iraq, and another in Guantanamo. This year, he will graduate from Fairfield University.

Cal Wauchope pinned on sergeant stripes in record time. He served twice in Iraq, and once in Afghanistan. He too graduates this year, from Pace University.

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Franzis also talked about 2 other members of Staples’ Class of ’05. Greg Jacobs, an excellent student, served several tours of duty in Afghanistan as a scout sniper. He is now studying at Columbia University. Orlando Figueroa served in Iraq, after getting himself in superb physical shape as a senior.

At Barlow, Franzis presented each former Stapleite with a letter. It conveyed his personal thanks — and a story.

The story began when Franzis was a battalion commander in 2004. One of his soldiers was an intelligence analyst who had deployed to Afghanistan just a few weeks after 9/11.

Before he left, he got permission from the FBI, NYPD and Fire Department of New York to go to the Fresh Kills landfill site, where remains from the World Trade Center were hauled.

Franzis’ soldier secured 50 pounds of granite from the fallen buildings. With the Army’s blessing, he transported it to Afghanistan. His goal was to distribute pieces of the granite to troops on the ground, as a remembrance of why they were there.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis' soldiers in Afghanistan.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis’ soldiers in Afghanistan.

In 2007, when Franzis was in Iraq, he received a box from the man. In it was a personalized letter to every one of Franzis’ soldiers — with a piece of the granite from the World Trade Center for each.

Yesterday, Franzis gave a piece of the granite — and a copy of the letter his soldier sent — to Scott and Wauchope. It’s a personal reminder of their own journeys.

“You have figuratively walked a million miles since the Twin Towers fell on that September morning of your freshman year at Staples,” Franzis said. “Let this be a reminder that you can do anything you set out to do.

“The hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life is already behind you.”

Doc Doubleday: The War Years In Westport

Doubleday Field — between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools — honors “Doc” Doubleday. From 1923 to 1957, he served the Westport YMCA as physical director, then membership director.

Generations of members knew Doc as the friendly face behind the front desk. Scott Smith — the Y’s current communications director and resident “story teller” — sent Doc’s son Ed’s remembrances along to “06880.” As we celebrate Veterans Day, it’s a great look back to the 1940s, and the impact of World War II. 

The war was a very depressing time. Westport lost some 40 young, vibrant boys and men.

When my dad stayed late to close the Y, he would peck away at the typewriter. I finally asked him about it. He said he wrote notes to all the young men he knew in the service all over the world. He had a 3×5 card file with the name and address of each serviceman, their likes and dislikes, friends’ names, hobbies, etc. He said they needed to know that we at home cared about them.

Every so often he came home with a tear in his eye, and a heavy heart. Another Westport boy had been killed.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

During the war years Al Bresslin, who was then the physical director, set up a “commando course” in the gym. There were parallel bars draped with mats to climb over, a low balance beam (footbridge), flying rings to swing over an imaginary river, a large pipe to crawl through, and finally a straight dash to the finish line. Everyone was timed weekly. Bill Krause was always the fastest.

There were all kinds of clubs at the Y: chess, checkers, airplane model building, stamp collecting and boxing. We had ping pong and pool tournaments.

Dad would ask why he didn’t see one or another of my friends at the Y anymore. Sometimes their parents didn’t have the $2 membership fee. He somehow came up with the money, and a Y membership card would magically arrive at the boy’s home. It meant so much to them.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric ("Rick") von Schmidt -- who went on to great fame as a folk singer -- is the guitarist on the right.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric (“Rick”) von Schmidt — who went on to great fame as a folk singer — is the guitarist on the right.

At the height of the war, all able-bodied men were off fighting. In the summer, farmers called Doc at the Y for labor. He’d round us up. We got on our bikes and headed out early mornings to hoe cabbage, pick tomatoes and corn, weed onions, etc. My friends and I were 12-14 years old. A 10-hour day, for $2.50, was good money for us.

In the fall, Herb Baldwin asked Dad to find kids to pick apples at his Bayberry Lane orchard. We got 3 cents a bushel, but it was fun. We’d pick and eat, then take a break and throw the bad apples at each other.

One day, Mr. Baldwin loaded us in a truck to help a friend on a farm in Fairfield. At noon we went up to the big garage to eat our lunch. Mrs. Rudkin offered us great homemade bread. The farm was named after a big tupelo tree that grew on the property. They’re also known as pepperidge trees. Imagine that: I was there at the beginning of Pepperidge Farms!

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier headlined pictures and names of all the young men who didn’t come home. My dad said, “Eddie, keep this paper. Every Memorial Day, take this out and look at it. Then say a prayer and thank all those who served our country.”

I have that newspaper today. Every Memorial Day I re-read it. It still hurts, almost 70 years later.

Ed Doubleday -- Doc's son -- reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

Ed Doubleday — Doc’s son — reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

When the war ended, the town celebrated V-J Day with a big gathering on the front steps of the Y. Soon, the boys began to come home. Some came to the Y first. They’d walk up to the front desk, throw down their duffel bag, reach over the desk, throw out their hands and say, “I’m home, Doc!” Tears formed in their eyes, and his.

Doc retired from the Y in 1957, and moved with my mom to Florida. She passed first. We lost Doc in 1972. He was 87.

Doc loved his years at the Y. I hope he will be remembered as someone who did what he could to make Westport a better place to live, and raise a family.

(This story is part of the Y’s 90th anniversary celebration. For more, click here.)

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson: Another View Of Veterans Day

“06880” reader Kendall Gardiner Anderson writes:

I joined the Army in 1967, and volunteered for duty in Viet Nam.

I served most of my time as a combat nurse on the ground, treating badly wounded soldiers in what most people would call a MASH unit. We worked 12 hour shifts, 6 to 7 days a week.

Both the heat and the jungle were very intense. Every morning I had to shake out huge bugs that had crawled into my combat boots.

Medicine was completely different from anything in the States. Soldiers got sick with malaria (which I also had), blackwater fever and parasites.

Kendall Gardiner, in Viet Nam.

Kendall Gardiner, in Viet Nam.

A lot of people have asked me what it was like being a woman in Viet Nam. I tell them I don’t know, because I was a soldier.

Although I had extensive military and medical training prior to deployment, nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered .

Most of the soldiers were 18 years old. I don’t think “06880” readers — or anyone — wants to really know about those young men wounded and dying, crying out for their mothers. I wish I didn’t remember. I saw more death than any one person should see, and was never young again post-Viet Nam.

I can tell you, nobody knew or cared about the geopolitical reasons we were there. We fought daily to survive, for the soldier next to us, for our country. In that order.

Daily life during the Viet Nam war. (Photo/Kendall Gardiner Anderson)

Daily life during the Viet Nam war. (Photo/Kendall Gardiner Anderson)

I worked quite a lot in a Buddhist orphanage giving medical care to abandoned babies and children. Most of them were later killed in a bombing raid — punishment for accepting American aid.

I had a great deal of trouble adjusting to civilian life when I came home in 1971. In 1979 I moved to a house on the Mill Pond in Westport, where I could raise my 2 children and try to find some peace.

While peace has sometimes been elusive, what I did find was Gavin Anderson. I was renting out my upstairs apartment, and he answered my ad.

One of the bonds we shared was that he had served in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. He was badly injured by a hand grenade blast during the war with Cyprus.

I also had been injured, in Viet Nam, when our hospital was bombed. Gavin was one of the very few people I could talk to about the war.

A soldier during surgery. Doctors and nurses -- including Kendall Gardiner -- were removing a live grenade.

A soldier during surgery. Doctors and nurses — including Kendall Gardiner — were removing a live grenade.

It has been 44 years, and this is the first time I have ever shown anyone, other than Gavin,  any photos.

There is a ” dark side ” of Veterans Day no one mentions or talks about. The struggle to survive after the war — every combat vet has this struggle.

Sending out some photos helps.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson met a former patient at the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson met a former patient at the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. (Photo/Gavin Anderson)

Taylor McNair: “Thank You, Veterans”

Each year, a Staples High School student is asked to speak at Westport’s Veterans Day ceremony.

In a town like this — where the military is an afterthought, if thought of at all — finding an appropriate, articulate high school senior is no easy task.

This year, Taylor McNair nailed it.

Here’s his speech, delivered yesterday at Town Hall.

In the fall of 2006, while on leave from Iraq, Private First Class Nick Madaras rounded up as many soccer balls as he could find to bring back for his 2nd tour of duty.  His plan was to distribute the balls to the Iraqi children he had watched day after day.

Unfortunately, he never got the chance.  Nick was killed by an IED shortly after returning to Baqubah, Iraq.

PFC Nick Madaras

Just weeks after hearing of his death, a fellow Wilton citizen and Korean War veteran contacted the Madaras family in hopes of maintaining Nick’s legacy, and more importantly, fulfilling Nick’s desire to do good.  From this, the “Kick for Nick” organization was born: an initiative based in Wilton that collects and ships balls to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, for distribution by U.S. soldiers.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Nick.  I did, however, have the pleasure of fulfilling his one wish.  Three years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, Staples soccer coach Dan Woog approached my older brother, then a senior, and asked if he would organize a “Kick for Nick” drive.

I remember sitting in my basement, deflating hundreds of soccer balls and inscribing “PFC Nick Madaras” on each one.  Yet it wasn’t until just recently, after meeting with Nick’s dad Bill to drop off the soccer balls from another successful drive this year, that I realized the power of those words.

I don’t know many veterans.  So when assistant principal Rich Franzis, an Iraq War veteran himself, asked if I would be interested in giving this speech today, I was honored yet hesitant.  My connection to this country’s servicemen and women was distant, to say the least.

I thought long and hard about the kind of sentiments a 17-year-old kid from Westport would have about Veterans Day.  My grandfathers and uncles didn’t fight in any wars; my friends have shown no interest in enlisting in the military. Yet my mind continued to bounce back to the recent “Kick for Nick drive.”  As it turns out, you don’t need to know a veteran to appreciate this special day.

And so I return to the power of those few words: a simple class rank, PFC, and the name of a fallen soldier, Nick Madaras.  Each and every ball a child receives is etched with this name, which serves as a constant reminder of what the United States military, of what you, have done for the world.  Each time a child touches a soccer ball, and his or her face glows with happiness, we can take pride in the fact that a U.S. soldier created that smile.

Taylor McNair (right) with Bill Madaras, after presenting 150 soccer balls from this year's "Kick for Nick" drive.

In 2008, ESPN did a story on PFC Nick Madaras.  Among the hundreds of comments on their web page, one stands out.  The commenter wrote, “I am a 53 year old US Coast Guard veteran, and when I watched this on ESPN I sat and cried for this beautiful family and this beautiful story. That story describes American soldiers so, so well.”

For me, Veterans Day is more than recognizing the sacrifices a soldier must make.  It’s about recognizing the impact that these sacrifices would have.

Nick Madaras sought to make his impact through the fundamental lesson of sharing.  Other soldiers have made their impact through acts of selflessness or gallantry.  The one thing I’ve discovered over these past few years, however, is that it doesn’t matter what kind of impact you made; rather, that you have made an impact at all.

Nick is like so many other veterans around the country. All of you, whether you know it or not, have gone above and beyond the call of duty in so many ways.  For Nick, this meant bringing happiness to the children he interacted with every day in a war-ravaged country.  For others of you, it might have been saving a fellow soldier’s life, or maybe putting your own life on the line to protect the fundamental principles of this nation.

For me, today is about appreciating that impact.

Servicemen and women are a unique group of people.  In almost every case you are heroic yet humble, altruistic but modest.  For generations, Americans have put the very foundation of our country, liberty, in your hands.  And for generations you have answered this call, and done so valiantly, with little recognition.

So today I know I speak for millions of other Americans when I say, thank you. Thank you Nick Madaras, for making this world a happier place by use of a simple soccer ball.

And thank you, all of you, for the often-intangible yet ever-present impacts you have made, not only in this town or this country, but in every corner of the world.

Dozens of flags in the Staples courtyard honored fallen soldiers yesterday. Each bore the name of a fallen soldier from the area -- including Wilfredo Perez of Norwalk (above), and Nick Madaras.

Click below to view Taylor McNair’s speech, as broadcast on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show.  Taylor begins speaking at the 2:20 mark.

Our Vets

An avid “06880” reader sent this along:

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I didn’t really have an appreciation for what that meant — until I befriended a real, live vet.

After all, what did I know about “veterans”? I had a typical upper-middle-class suburban upbringing:  a child of the ‘70s, teenager of the 80’s, raised in mostly peacetime, privileged hometowns similar to Westport.

No one in my immediate family had served.  My father was drafted before I was born.  He spent several months in the naval service in Michigan in 1960, nowhere near combat).

Viet Nam was a distant, black-and-white memory:  Walter Cronkite relaying various strategic losses in Cambodia and Phnom Penh — remote places on the other side of the world that had nothing to do with me.

As a teenager and young adult, I was pretty much oblivious to Veteran’s Day.  Sometimes I had the day off from work, sometimes not.

Tom Feeley -- one of Westport's many proud veterans.

Recently, I started working with a fellow, someone much older than me, who had served in Viet Nam.  I learned how important his military service was to him, to the person that he had become. Out of deference and respect, I patiently listened to his tales of service — his “war stories.”

They were pretty interesting!  Exotic encounters with Vietnamese; confrontations with Viet Cong; near-death experiences with land mines, road bombs, ambushes; life in the Mekong Delta.  He relished sharing his stories of what life in the military had taught him.

Next, I started going to the Memorial Day parade here in Westport, especially since one year my friend was marching.  I was struck by the dignity and pride of the servicemen and women marching in the parade.  I even visited the VFW a couple of times (how many Westporters have ever seen the inside of that building?).

Several years ago I was privileged to accompany my dear friend, and an elderly friend of his, to Bedford Middle School in November.  It was a little-known event, at which local vets are invited to speak with 8th graders about their military experiences.

My friend thoughtfully prepared his presentation, candidly sharing his insights with the students. His friend, a WWII vet, spoke more extemporaneously, sometimes breaking down unabashedly in front of the youngsters.

It struck me then that these 2 handsome elderly gentlemen were once fresh-faced, optimistic youngsters, barely older than our seniors at Staples, when they confronted these tremendous trials – and even the prospect of death – all at an age when my greatest worry was paying the rent on my studio apartment in Manhattan.

Last year, for the first time, I attended the Veterans Day ceremony at Town Hall.  I watched the proud men and women who had served stand tall when their branch of the service was recognized, get slightly teary-eyed at the playing of “Taps,” and greet each other gleefully like members of a fraternity or sorority at the conclusion.  They made it back.  They survived.

Remarkably, they were humble.  They even demurred slightly when I said, “thank you for your service.”  It was as if it were all in a day’s work.

I hope you tried it yourself.  I hope you made your Veterans Day meaningful.  If you had to work, I hope you thanked the veterans you know at your workplace.

If you were fortunate to get the day off, I hope you attended the ceremony at Town Hall.

If not, please think about doing so next year.  It will make you proud to be an American.

And you’ll certainly be in good company.

“Letters Home”

Veteran’s Day is a holiday that Westport hardly celebrates.  More like “hurriedly observes” — if that.

Next Wednesday, things change.

This Veteran’s Day, the Westport Country Playhouse and Westport Arts Center team up to honor our vets.  Noted actor Brian Dennehy hosts a Playhouse presentation of “Letters Home” — a dramatic production of actual letters written by US troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Playhouse lobby, the WAC will install an exhibition.  “Daily Exchanges:  US Soldiers in Iraq — The Ordinary in Images” features photographs and videos depicting the everyday life of troops serving in war.

Staples grad Spencer Platt — a world-renowned photojournalist – will be represented in the exhibit.

A reception and guided tour of the art exhibit begins at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, followed by “Letters Home” at 7.

A panel discussion follows the play.  Afterward, curator Terri Smith and artist/veteran Paul Kaiser will comment on the exhibition.

(Tickets to “Letters Home” are $15 for the general public, $10 for veterans.  Call 203-227-4177, or click here.  For more information on the exhibition, call 203-222-7070, or click here.  The art exhibition will also be on display in the Playhouse lobby on Thurs., Nov. 12 from 1-6 p.m., and Fri., Nov. 13 from noon-6 p.m.)

Paul Kaiser's photograph

Paul Kaiser's photograph will be on exhibit at the Westport Country Playhouse's Veterans Day salute.