In 2002, Bruce Allen and Jack Schwartz contacted Jim Honeycutt.
Members of the very active, wide-ranging Y’s Men retirees’ group, they asked the Staples High School media instructor for help with a project.
Both had served in the military during World War II. They wanted to produce a video, filled with memories and reflections of 18 WWII combat veterans. Already, the ranks of service members from that war were thinnning.
His father was in the navy. Honeycutt was happy to help.
Plaques, memorials and a statue fill Westport’s Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.
As he interviewed the nearly 2 dozen veterans, Honeycutt was stunned. One man had waved at a low-flying airplane. The pilot waved back. Then he torpedoed a battleship in Pearl Harbor.
Schwartz himself bombed Japan, at the same time an atomic bomb was dropped to the north. He saw the sky filled with colors.
“The stories are so important to remember,” Honeycutt says.
So earlier this year — now retired from teaching — he took the DVD, re-edited it, and uploaded the finished product to his personal YouTube channel.
There’s almost 3 hours of content. As Veterans Day approaches, Honeycutt invites “06880” readers to honor all who served America by hearing their stories. Just click below.
“This is incredible. I’m 95. At my age, you don’t get many awards.”
That’s Larry Aasen’s reaction to being named grand marshal of the 2018 Memorial Day parade.
The World War II airborne sergeant — and 55-year Westport resident — will ride the route from Riverside Avenue down the Post Road, and up Myrtle Avenue to Veterans Green, on Monday, May 28. There, he’ll give the keynote address.
Aasen — and many other Westporters — hope the 3rd time’s the charm. The 2 previous Memorial Day parades have been canceled due to weather. The grand marshals delivered their addresses in the Town Hall auditorium.
Larry Aasen, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.
Aasen has a lot to talk about.
He was born in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.
Aasen rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France. His division had 20-person gliders, with no protection. The mission was to drop behind enemy lines, and destroy anything of value. Gliders had a 70% casualty rate, Aasen says.
His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. He had a security clearance from the FBI.
After his discharge in 1946, Aasen earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He headed east, for a master’s at Boston University.
Aasen moved to New York, “to seek my fortune.” He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked. Aasen worked with Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities on those projects. (He’s also met 6 US presidents.)
When they posed for this photo, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”
In 1963, he, his wife Martha and their young children moved to Westport. “We needed more room than a New York apartment,” he explains. “There were a lot of media people here, and they loved it.”
He and Martha live in the same Ellery Lane house they bought over half a century ago. He calls it “the best investment we ever made.”
Aasen served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). His other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men, Rotary Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Larry and Martha Aasen have not missed a Memorial Day parade in 54 years. This year, he’ll have a special role in it.
A well-deserved honor for one of Westport’s favorite 95-year-olds.
It’s the one day each year that our sophisticated, hedge fund-filled suburb turns into an All-American village. The parade is filled with countless cops, youth soccer players, Y’s Men, Suzuki violinists, firefighters, library and Westport Country Playhouse representatives, and (of course) military vets and school band glockenspielers.
Everyone else who is not marching is on the sidewalk, enjoying the show.
But when the parade ends, not everyone makes it over to Veterans Green across from Town Hall.
That’s a shame. That’s where the real meaning of Memorial Day takes place. It’s a quick half hour of patriotic music, a few greetings from dignitaries.
And a speech from the grand marshal.
Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.
This year’s marshal is Ed Vebell. He’s that increasingly rare — but particularly important — American: a World War II veteran.
Ed turned 96 yesterday. He still lives alone, a few steps from the beach.
It takes him a while to get ready in the morning. He’ll get up extra early on Monday. He won’t speak long — his eyesight is going, and he can’t read speeches that well — but, he says, “I’ve got some war stories to tell.”
Does he ever.
Ed joined the Army Air Force in 1942. A talented artist-reporter, he was dropped behind enemy lines in Algiers, Italy and France. He’d sketch enemy equipment and positions, then be picked up 3 days later.
“I was a good target for snipers,” Ed says. “The photographers just took their pictures and ducked down. I had to stand up and draw.”
Of course, he adds, “when you’re 20 you think you’re invincible.”
He had good reason to think that. He tumbled from the Swiss Alps in a Jeep (he landed in snow-covered trees). He was lost at sea for 11 days. A sword pierced his chest. He was hit by a locomotive.
But he survived. And, Ed says, “it was all really something. I was a young kid from Chicago who had never even seen the ocean.”
An Ed Vebell illustration made in Italy, in 1944.
When the war ended, Ed stayed in France for nearly 3 years. He worked for a French newspaper, enjoyed the Folies Bergère, met Charles de Gaulle and Edith Piaf — and covered the Nuremberg trials.
Returning to America, he worked for Readers Digest, Time and Life. He illustrated books and advertisements.
He also represented the US as a fencer, at Helskinki in 1952. (He made the semifinals.)
Oh yeah: A book he wrote about his experiences — “An Artist at War” — comes out soon.
America’s living link to World War II veterans is rapidly diminishing. Nearly 500 servicemen and women from that conflict die every day.
Yet when Joe Schachter rises Monday to deliver Westport’s Memorial Day address, he will stand steady. The 90-year-old’s voice will be strong.
Schachter — the grand marshal of this year’s parade — is living proof of the power of an active, full life.
The South Norwalk native graduated from Norwalk High in 1943. There were plenty of empty seats at the ceremony; many classmates had gone off to war.
Schachter — who loved the water since childhood, when he fished in a rowboat with his dad and was a Sea Scout — had already enlisted in the Navy. He trained at Trinity College in Hartford (which had been turned into a naval installation), then finished midshipman school at Cornell.
He served — and took enemy fire — on the Wilkes Barre cruiser in Tokyo Bay, and along the Manchurian border.
After the war Schachter returned to Trinity, graduating in December 1947. He spent 30 years in advertising, in Hartford and New York, on accounts like Ford and Eastman Kodak, and moved to Westport to raise a family.
Long Island Sound was always an important part of his life. In the late 1960s Longshore’s E.R. Strait Marina was silted so badly, he and other boaters could get in and out only at mid or high tide.
Schachter helped form the Minuteman Yacht Club. As “the voice of boaters,” they pushed the town to improve the Longshore and Compo marinas. First Selectman John Kemish appointed him to the town’s 1st Boating Advisory Committee too.
The Compo marina — now named for former Board of Finance chair Ned Dimes — includes some of Schachter’s own docks. In the mid-1970s he learned of a new type of construction — using floating concrete, instead of rickety wood — and embarked on a 2nd career.
The Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach utilizes Joe Schachter’s concrete docks.
His Norwalk-based Concrete Flotation Systems company introduced floating concrete docks to the Northeast — and as far as Greenland and Bermuda. For 20 years he worked on projects for the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. He’s most proud of his 400th installation: the one at Compo.
The grand marshal — who has lived in the same house for 50 years, not far from Compo Beach — is well known too for his volunteer efforts with the Saugatuck River Power Squadron. “Safety on the water is important,” he says. “You can’t just buy a boat and go out on the Sound.”
Schachter was also an active member of the Norwalk Seaport Association. He helped start the Oyster Festival, and served as chair of the Maritime Center’s marketing committee.
Off the water, Schachter spent several decades advocating for rail passengers. He helped found the Commuter Action Committee. As a member of the statewide Rail Advisory Task Force, he served 3 governors.
Schachter is honored to be named grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. He follows in the footsteps of good friends like fellow WWII vets Barry McCabe, Leonard Everett Fisher and Neil Croarkin.
The World War II memorial on Veteran’s Green, across from Westport Town Hall.
A few days ago, he was still writing his speech. “It’s easy to stand up and say a few platitudes,” he noted. “I want to do more than that.”
After Monday’s ceremony, he may join many other Westporters in a Memorial Day tradition: a trip to Compo Beach.
“I’m so pleased to drive by, and see how it serves people,” he says.
Just as Joe Schachter has served his town — and his country — for so many years, in so many ways.
(The Memorial Day parade steps off on Monday [May 30], 9 a.m. at Saugatuck Elementary School. The Veteran’s Green ceremony at which Joe Schachter will speak begins immediately after the parade, approximately 10:30 a.m.)
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