Tag Archives: World War II

Memorial Day: We Remember

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.

Memorial Day 2021: Tribute To A World War II Hero

Jay Walshon is a longtime Westporter. As Memorial Day nears, he memorializes his father — a World War II veteran — with these loving words:

On May 8, 27 days shy of his 96th birthday, my father Abraham Milton Walshon took his final breath on earth.

Forever he will be my hero.

During my 35 years in emergency medicine I’ve impacted thousands of families and helped save numerous lives. But all that pales in comparison to what my dad did. He helped save civilization from tyranny.

Whereas I worked within controlled confines of safe facilities, using disinfectants and sutures, he practiced in the office of heroism, laboring in mud, muck and mire, foxholes and entrenchments, under duress of bullets, bombs, grenades, and the mortar shells that took too many of his comrades and violated his flesh in 2 separate battles, earning him Purple Hearts among other distinctions of valor: a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Oak Leaf Cluster, 5 Combat Stars, Occupation and Victory Medals.

Abraham Walshon’s medals

It was unnerving to learn that in one Nazi assault a mere twist of fate or divine intervention permitted the perpetuation of his lineage. My father’s unpublished cathartic memoir’s final punctuation mark forever silenced the unspeakable events of those years.

Captioning his youthful image gazing from page, the June 1943 Jefferson High School yearbook notes that “Milty’s” graduation intentions were Brooklyn College and photography. But by its June publication, my dad knew all that must wait. Like for so many of his youth, World War II interrupted personal plans and desires. He turned 18 on the 4th of that month.

One brother enlisted in Army Air Corps bomber reconnaissance in the Pacific. The other served Coast Guard in the Philippines. For my dad, Army infantry under General Dwight Eisenhower awaited.

Abraham Walshon, on his 1943 enlistment.

Noted by their Thunderbird shoulder sleeve insignia with “Semper Anticus” their motto, his 45th Division battled across Africa, Italy, France and Germany. Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Rome represented places few tourists can comprehend. Asked later in life why not travel to Europe, he quipped there was no need. He’d seen enough on foot.

Educated under the GI Bill at Packard and Columbia for an unanticipated degree in accounting, my dad set a precedent: the first civilian promoted to deputy inspector general. Base commanders shivered upon his arrival to inspect accounting and procurement records. But any harsh veneer belied the tenderness that lay within.

Forgoing the power and prestige of position so many strive for, Dad prioritized his 68-year love affair with Dorothy and the family they created. He chose to resign the military, rather than uproot our lives to D.C. To my sister and me it never appeared a difficult or regretful decision.

Music filled our Brooklyn childhood home: Jolson, Dorsey, Ella, Satchmo, Steve & Edie, Judy, Barbra, Sammy and Sinatra (who my dad considered a personal friend, having once met him backstage). With his own “Sinatra-esque” vocals that brought him to clubs in NYC, accompanied by his untrained fingers caressing piano keys guided by his remarkable natural ear, our Bensonhurst dwelling was transformed in a fashion only music can do.

Strong, obstinate, sometimes impatient and abrasive (a byproduct of the Depression), proud to a fault, a king of the cha cha, Dad suffered no fools, and was intolerant of superficiality, frivolity, disloyalty or ostentation.  Despite his 5-9, 150-pound stature, he never backed down.

Abraham and Dorothy Walshon’s wedding.

Whereas many fathers emphasized popularity, power and fortune, the virtues of modesty, frugality tempered with generosity, and above all else family, became his guiding light – a wisdom obtained from his life being daily imperiled.

With tenderness at his core, and flowing creativity with generosity until his death, my dad gifted every single loved one a personalized poem recognizing each occasion. Each writing was unique, elegant, tender, permeated with love.  Going through his belongings, we discovered 4 binders titled “The Loving History of the Walshon Family in Poetry and Rhyme.” Each overflowed with every birthday, wedding, bar mitzvah and anniversary poem he wrote over 7 decades. That was my tough dad.

His photography aspiration ultimately “settled” for many “snapshots,” and a handful of 8mm reels capturing the joys of post-war family milestones – my first bath, a wedding, rides at Coney Island – all borne of one man’s personal celebration of survival, validation of freedom’s triumph, and perhaps a subconscious poke in Germany’s eye that we didn’t merely endure. We indeed prevailed.

Losing the love of his life, severing the 68-year earthly bond to my angelic mother Dorothy 4 years ago, irreparably damaged the spirit that ravages of war had only tarnished. Despite incredible strength for a nonagenarian, independence and a continued presence of mind, these past 4 were not easy or kind. The ravages of time ultimately succeeded where the Nazis had failed.

68 years of happy marriage.

As the Army buglers’s solemn melody embraced the mourners present, and I tearfully watched the flag-adorned coffin lowered beside his devoted love of 73 years, my only regret was not knowing them during their innocence of youth, predating the horrors and darkness that no child should witness, yet so many were forced to endure.

My dad was from a generation of boys who were steeled so that those who followed would not be forced to be. They embodied the true meaning of bravery, selflessness and sacrifice in order to make the world a place worth living for we who have followed. “Duty,” “valor,” a time when mere teenagers knew what was at stake and willingly offered the ultimate sacrifice – not one conscription amongst them. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are forever indebted to role models like my dad.

On this Memorial Day we honor, salute and remember the many who have served in freedom’s highest calling – my dad now among them. As for so many others, life will go on, but never the same.

As years pass, our Memorial Day parades may become perfunctory – replete with dogs, burgers, barbecues and beer.  Conversely, they should become increasingly meaningful. In April it was estimated that of the 6.1 million WWII veterans, a mere 100,000 remain living. In 5 years perhaps, only a handful of scores; in 10, none. My dad’s passing lessens that 100,000 by only one – but for my family, as for every other, that is an enormous “one.”

Abraham Milton Walshon is not just my hero – he was ours. I pray that his kind are never again needed.

Abraham Walshon (center) with his family (from left): granddaughter Megan, wife Dorothy, Megan’s husband Jason, grandson Zak, daughter-in-law Caroline and son Jay.

Family Sacrifices: Making Meaning Of Memorial Day

As Westport prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to personalize all those who gave their lives for our country. Over 75 years ago, 2 local families did far more than their share.

It may be an American record.

During World War II, 8 of the 12 Cuseo sons left Westport, to enlist in the armed forces.

Fortunately, only one — James — was killed.

The Cuseo family in 1935 or ’36. Daughter Mildred is missing.  Father James and mother Lucy are in the middle.. (Photo courtesy of Woody Klein’s book “Westport, Connecticut.”)

But when the Cuseos’ mother, Lucy, died in 1943, her daughter said it was due to her “broken heart.”

Lucy was buried here with military honors. American Legion members served as pallbearers.

The Cuseos’ contributions to World War II were astonishing. But in terms of sacrifice, none made more than the Wassell family.

Four sons enlisted. All were pilots. Three were killed in action — all within 15 months of each other.

Charles P. “Pete” Wassell

Before the war, Harry — the oldest — helped design fighter planes in Stratford. He, his brother Bud and other Westport men started the Westport Defense Unit, to teach marksmanship.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. A 2nd lieutenant, he died in Iceland in 1943 while ferrying aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank L. “Bud” Wassell Jr.

Like Harry, Bud left college because of the Depression. The 2 sons worked with their father, Lloyd, in starting the Wassell Organization on Sylvan Road. A very successful businessman, he had worked as personal assistant to George Westinghouse, founder of Westinghouse Electric.

The company invented and sold production control equipment, becoming instrumental in expediting the efficiency of defense contractors. A 1st lieutenant flight commander, Bud was killed in 1943 in a midair collision, while a flight instructor in Florida.

Harry B. Wassell

Pete — a 1940 Staples High School graduate — left Middlebury College to train as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. He transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant navigator.

He served in the China/ Burma/India Theater, and died in 1944 after his B-24 aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser.

The 4th son — George — was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. But he left high school in 1942, to enlist as an aviation cadet. Appointed a B-17 aircraft commander at the age of 18, he was recalled from overseas duty when his 3rd brother Pete was killed. He served as a B-17 pilot instructor through the war’s end.

George Wassell with his parents, Lloyd and Georgene, by the Westport train station on Railroad Place in 1943 or ’44.

George turned down a full engineering scholarship to Cornell in order to join his father in the Wassell Organization.

Pete left behind a child, born 2 months after his death. Harry had a daughter, Patty, who lived in Westport for many years. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.

George and Betsy Wassell at Longshore, not long after the war.

When Lloyd moved his family to Westport before the war, he and his wife Georgene bought several acres of land on Mayflower Parkway. He built a large house (by 1930s standards), and planned to give building lots to his 6 kids: the 4 boys, and daughters Pat and Betty.

World War II sabotaged all that. But George and Pat did build homes there after the war. George added a pool, 3-hole golf course and tree house. The property became a great attraction for lots of cousins, and tons of neighborhood kids.

Longtime Westporter Jono Walker — George’s nephew — remembers those times fondly.

“The Wassells never dwelled on their tragic history,” he says. “At least none of us kids ever felt it. The house was constantly filled with great joy and life.”

As for George and Betsy: They moved to New Hampshire in 1974. He died in 2010, age 85. Betsy Schuyler Wassell is now 95, healthy and sharp and living in Maine. She looks forward to hosting her annual Wassell reunion in Kennebunkport next month, greeting offspring from as far as the Netherlands.

Pat Wassell McAleenan lost her husband Peter 18 months ago. At last report she was well, and at 95 living in Estes Park, Colorado.

Betty Wassell Watts died just over a year ago, at 100. Her children were by her side.

The Wassell brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.

(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)

Roundup: WWII Vet, Patagonia Mural, Oyster Boat, More


Jimmy Izzo never knew his grandfather’s brother. Army Staff Sgt. Louis Doddo was 30 years old when he was killed at Saipan on July 7, 1945 — just 2 months before the Japanese surrendered, to end World War II.

His remains were not identified. “Unknown X-26” was buried in the Philippines in 1950.

But now Izzo — a 1983 Staples High School graduate, longtime RTM member and former owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware store — and his family have closure.

Izzo’s cousin, Kathy Bell Santarella, began searching for his remains 10 years ago. Thanks to her persistence, the work of the American Graves Registration Service, and DNA samples from various aunts and uncles, “Unknown X-26” has been positively identified as Doddo.

The 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division soldier will buried in May in his hometown of Norwalk.

His name, meanwhile, is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with others still missing. A rosette will be placed next to his name, indicating he has been accounted for.

Click here to read the full story, from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Staff Sgt. Louis S. Doddo


Some cool murals — dating back to its days as Westport Bank & Trust — hang inside Patagonia.

Now there’s a pretty cool one outside too.

Many years ago, the clothing store and Green Village Initiative had a strong relationship. GVI has evolved from a Westport-based, volunteer organization to a Bridgeport urban farming and gardening non-profit. Its mission is to grow food, knowledge, leadership and community, to create a more just food system.

But the connection with Patagonia continues, based on a shared commitment to food justice.

The mural is one example. Painted by Charlyne Alexis and Stephanie Gamrra Cretara, it promotes and supports local farming, and GVI.

Plus, it looks awesome. (Hat tip: Pippa Bell Ader)


Tammy Barry has often wondered about the oyster boat moored often in Long Island Sound.

The other day, through binoculars, she read the name: Catherine M. Wedmore.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

Intrigued, she googled it. This came up on the Westport Museum of History & Culture page:

“Catherine M. Wedmore is a 56 foot wooden oyster boat built in in West Mystic, Connecticut in 1924. This 96 year old lady still works daily harvesting oysters from Norwalk to Westport for Norm Bloom & Son/Copps Island Oysters.”

Now you know!


Have you started planning for the Parks & Rec Department’s first-ever holiday house decorating contest?

Andrew Colabella spotted this interesting scene, on Dogwood Lane. Click here for contest details.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)


It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Or, perhaps, a bird-eat-fish world.

Molly Alger spotted this scene recently at Sherwood Island State Park:

(Photo/Molly Alger)


And finally … on this day in 1969, the Rolling Stones were the featured band at the Altamont Free Concert. During “Sympathy for the Devil,” 18-year-old  Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels security guards. It was not rock ‘n’ roll’s finest hour.

“Tomorrow … Just You Wait And See”

The other day, longtime Westporter John Gould took this beautiful image of bluebirds in his dogwood tree.

(Photo/John Gould)

John moved to Westport in 1965. He played drums and sang in just about every bar in Westport. He played for Keith Richards’ birthday and anniversary — and Keith invited him to play with the Stones at Madison Square Garden. He also ran his own tree surgery company, was a commercial diver, and was a noted amateur soccer player.

John now entertains appreciative residents at nursing homes. He’s just completed his memoir. 

But back to the bluebirds. John writes:

I call this photo “Tomorrow … Just You Wait and See.” It’s from the song “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” a song I remember from my childhood.

It looks to me like Mrs, Bluebird is asking Mr. Bluebird, as they look into the  future: “When is this going to end?”

It is a question on everyone’s mind today, as it has been many times in the past.

Bluebirds have always been special to me. I grew up in London during World War II. I’m lucky to have survived, including the London Blitz and the Battle of Britain.

My dad was killed in the Royal Navy when I was almost 3 years old.

Three of my uncles were wounded — two in Africa, one in Russia. Another became a prisoner of war.

At home in London, hundreds of planes came from over the sea to drop thousands of bombs on us day and by night. My mother, sister, grandmother, granddad, aunts, cousins and I would shelter in the cupboard under the basement stairs. There wasn’t much room, but we made sure we all fit.

The London Blitz.

For one nonstop spell, the London Blitz lasted 57 nights in a row. The noise from the exploding bombs was deafening and frightening.

The war lasted for 6 years. But we took Winston Churchill’s advice: “Keep calm and carry on.”

It’s strange. With food so scarce and strict rationing in force, there always seemed to be an empty tin can of Spam or corned beef lying around in the streets. I honed my soccer dribbling skills by kicking one all the way home from elementary school, over the ankle-twisting loose bricks and rubble of houses, some bombed as recently as the night before.

When the air raid sirens sounded, I broke into a sprint home.

The war seemed endless. The Nazis were massing in France, only 21 miles away, preparing to invade us. Yet we would never surrender!

And like Churchill said, there would be no end until each of us lay choking in his own blood upon the ground.

It was depressing, seemingly hopeless — even for a child, wondering how I could protect my own family.

Then, like a rainbow, suddenly appearing in the gray London skies: a miracle! America came into the war! God bless America!

An American soldier, with a new friend.

Suddenly there were Yanks with names like Hank, Chuck and Pinky in the streets. They had left their own homes and loved ones to come help us, and fight alongside us against the Nazis.

My memories of them are of their super-smart uniforms, and their generosity to me.

My mother would send me out to ask for a shilling coin for 2 sixpences for the gas meter. They never took my 2 sixpences, but always me a shilling for the meter, a fistful of their pocket change — and gum, just for me.

God bless America!

The war dragged on. Everyone longed for it to reach a happy conclusion.

Songs were played over the radio to lift our spirits, and give us something to look forward to.

One such song seems particularly appropriate for our challenging situation today. “The White Cliffs of Dover” was written in 1941 by Walter Kent (an Englishman), with lyrics by Nat Burton (an American). He did not know that bluebirds were not indigenous to England. But they are now — in our hearts.

It was beautifully sung by Vera Lynn. Now Dame Vera Lynn, she is 103 years old (and probably still singing).

When I came to America, I lived in Westport for 26 years. Though I no longer live there, I always try to attend the Memorial Day parade, to honor all our fallen heroes in all our wars.

It means a lot to me. Both my sons played in their schools’ marching bands, making stirring, heartwarming music. How sad that it’s not happening this year.

I love Westport, and the many friends I made there. I’m concerned for their welfare. But reading “06880,” I am reassured and proud of the positive response to these terrible times. So many wonderful Westporters endeavor to help each other out.

The Chucks, Hanks and Pinkys are still on the front lines. Thanks, guys and gals!

When World War II ended, a million of us went to Buckingham Palace to celebrate with the King and Queen, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and Winston Churchill.

All waved back at me and our welling sea of happy people, from their flag- bedecked balcony.

Together, as in the past, we can bring about an end to terrible times. My bluebirds can see it!

Here’s looking forward to rejoicing on that beautiful day.

And every day thereafter.

John Gould

Eloise Reilly: The Centenarian’s Great Sequel

I was so glad this morning to run an upbeat story. Westporter Eloise Reilly turned 100 on Sunday, and — from a safe distance — her neighbors helped her celebrate.

I called her a “longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member.” I didn’t know the half of it.

Today, alert and inspired “06880” reader Kristin McKinney sent along a profile of Eloise she wrote a couple of years ago, for the Westport Garden Club newsletter. In honor of Eloise, she graciously shares it with us.

She picked up her landline on the second ring, old school style, no email, no cell phone. Connecticut native and Westport Garden Club member since 1977, Eloise Reilly was cheerful, bright and as receptive as she could be, certainly she would meet with me tomorrow for a WGC newsletter profile.

She gave me directions; we agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Approaching her property and ascending the longish driveway I noticed the American flag hoisted proudly on a tall, metal flagpole. Ellen Greenberg tipped me off that Eloise served in some capacity during World War II, and seeing Old Glory so elegantly displayed convinced me that was indeed the case.

I parked, found the door after looping around the house which coincidentally afforded me a very nice glimpse of Eloise’s gardens, and gave a gentle knock. Two sets of beautiful eyes met me, Eloise’s piping blues and those of her two-year old rescue kitty who viewed me somewhat suspiciously.

Eloise Reilly, on her 100th birthday. (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

I was invited in and led to a comfy chair near a large bay window where the next three hours passed like a New York City minute. Not having the advantage of searching a Facebook page or Linked In profile in advance of our interview, I proceeded conversationally, looking for common ground.

Eloise was charmingly forthcoming; our initial topic of discussion involved her very successful career as a human resources manager for advertising giant Young & Rubicam that began in 1953, and a second career after tiring of the NYC commute as a realtor with Helen Benson Real Estate.

Talk moved to her home, a beautiful structure designed and built by none other than Eloise herself in 1956, in a time and era where women “just weren’t doing those types of things.” I asked Eloise where she developed her fondness for gardening and asked if as a little girl, she spent time in her mother’s gardens.

The answer was not only yes, but it turns out that like Janet Wolgast, her mother knew the Latin names of every variety of plant, flower and shrub that is identified by the American Horticulture Society.

What is her passion? Growing from seed. Eloise shared that she loves watching things grow, geraniums in particular. As a curious seed novice, I asked about her method for obtaining them, her quick-witted response was, “Order them from Fark’s!”

Eloise Reilly, during World War II.

An interview with Eloise wouldn’t be remotely complete without going into detail about a period in her life which she describes as, “a fabulous experience. Never happened before, will never happen again.”

After reading an article in Life Magazine, Eloise discovered women could go overseas with the Red Cross. She applied unsuccessfully multiple times, each rejection letter specifying the same reason:  she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 25.

That year was 1943 and according to Eloise whose two brothers were in the Naval Air Corps, “1300 of Westport’s 7K residents were in active service, everybody and anybody enlisted.”

Not to be deterred, Eloise finally scored an interview in DC and in battling the age argument audaciously stated, “I’m not 25, the war is going to be over by the time I’m 25, but I’ll match my family against anybody you have in the Red Cross.” She was officially in.

Eloise Reilly became a member of the Clubmobilers, a unique unit of service recognized by U.S. Senate Resolution 471 dated May 23, 2012, for exemplary service during the Second World War. Clubmobiles, established in 1942 and conceived by Harvey Gibson, the Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, provided fresh coffee, doughnuts, entertainment and a listening ear to troops across Western Europe and eventually the Far East.

Eloise’s tour of duty took her through England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium, as she says, “zigzagging all over the place.” According to Eloise, “I learned to drive a six-wheel, two-ton truck with a double clutch and no power steering. We were assigned to a division, the 12th army group, and we had to meet them upon request in various towns or even countries. There were 8 trucks per group, 3 girls apiece, 24 in total. There was also a supply truck with two girls who could sing or play the piano.”

Eloise Reilly, as a Clubmobiler.

In the event of capture, the ladies were made second lieutenants and although this allowed them admittance into the officer’s club for a meal, they preferred to dine with the GI’s. The Clubmobilers found themselves living in tents, chateaus or even theoccasional, local bordello.

If they asked for directions to the powder room, most often the response was met with a nod toward the surrounding woods. Eloise remarked that in a world of men, the Clubmobiliers were placed on a pedestal, treated like sisters, aunts, mothers.  “They were protected,” said Eloise. “Nobody got out of line, the GI’s were self-policing.”

I asked Eloise if she was ever afraid and the answer was a resounding “no.”  While she admits to being apprehensive at times and despite some accidents and fatalities sustained by fellow Clubmobilers, she was never concerned for her own life.

In fact, her goal was to get to the Front.

FUN FACTThe Westport Garden Club is 96 years old. To Eloise, that’s almost a child.

Sigrid Schultz’s Secret

This week — as the world remembers the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — alert “06880” readers Morley Boyd, Wendy Crowther and John F. Suggs share a stunning World War II discovery. 

Sigrid Schultz, in a portrait by her father Herman Schultz.

Last week, the Westport Museum of History & Culture opened a compelling exhibit about Sigrid Schultz. “Dragon Lady” honors the pioneering female reporter, social justice activist — and longtime Westporter — who played an important role in exposing the growing Nazi threat during the lead-up to the war, and beyond. 

 Yet no one knew how truly perilous that role actually was for Schultz — until now.

Boyd, Crowther and Suggs have spent several years researching this remarkable, often overlooked hero. In this exclusive story for “06880,” they share a stunning discovery. They write:

Serving as the Chicago Tribune’s Berlin bureau chief from 1926 to 1941, Sigrid Schultz masked her intense loathing for the Nazis in order to cultivate contacts at the highest level of the Third Reich. Among her many accomplishments, Schultz interviewed Adolf Hitler several times. She also fearlessly cast a barb at Hermann Göring for his failed attempt to have her arrested.

She boldly covered the persecution of Jews, was one of the first to report on abuses at the German concentration camps, and was once called “Hitler’s greatest enemy.”

She also had a big secret: She was Jewish.

This fact appears to have been missed by every scholar and historian who has studied her thus far — including her own biographer, and the Westport Museum.

In 1938, as tensions escalated in Germany, Schultz’s mother Hedwig left Berlin, and  bought a house on Westport’s Elm Street.

On the ship’s manifest, Hedwig is identified as “Hebrew.” According to traditional Jewish law, a person’s Jewish status is passed down through the mother.

The passenger manifest, identifying Hedwig Schultz as “Hebrew.” It says “DO” for “Ditto,” referencing the names above.

Back in Germany, as the persecution of Jews became more aggressive, Schultz likely wondered whether her lineage would be discovered and used against her.

In a 1940 letter to her Chicago Tribune publisher, she detailed the growing threats and attempts meant to intimidate her. She noted, “I’ve even been denounced as being Jewish…”

Four months later, after learning of failed assassination attempts on 2 of her best German sources, Schultz fled Germany for the house on Elm Street. Based on her extensive knowledge of Nazi Germany’s inner workings, she was recruited as a high level intelligence operative in the OSS, the precursor to today’s CIA.

When Schultz’s mother died in Westport in December of 1960, it appears that Schultz went to extreme lengths to obscure her Jewish identity.

On Hedwig’s death certificate, Sigrid wrote “unknown” in the space reserved for her maternal grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

In fact Schultz was quite close to her mother, having lived with her most of her life. She also personally knew both her maternal grandmother and maternal aunt, and was in possession of historic family documents (including those related to her maternal grandfather, Louis Jaskewitz).

We believe that Schultz would have been quite knowledgeable about her family tree. It’s doubtful she did not know her own grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

Schultz did confide in a few people.  One was her good friend, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. In a November 10, 1986 interview with Sigrid’s biographer, Cohen said:

Schultz also divulged her secret to a young Staples student who interviewed her at her Elm Street home in 1976, as part of an assignment for Joe Lieberman’s English class.

Student Pamela Wriedt-Boyd quietly took notes as Schultz spoke about the importance of maintaining journalistic professionalism –- no matter what.

By way of example, Schultz recounted a chance meeting with Hitler at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin. Schultz had been chatting in the lobby with Göring when Hitler suddenly appeared. After Göring introduced the two, Schultz said that Hitler “bowed down, grabbed my hand, kissed it, then raised his head and with his eyes, tried to stare deeply into mine. That kind of soulful stare had always repulsed me, and I failed to show the appreciation he expected.”

As if to underscore the point of her story, Schultz added, “He didn’t know I was Jewish!”

Pamela received an “A” for her report. She provided us with a notarized statement attesting to the story Schultz told her that day.

While only a few people in Westport knew the truth about Schultz’s Jewish identity, her father’s relatives in Norway were never in the dark. We tracked down Schultz’s nearest living next of kin — a first cousin, twice removed — who lives there. He said:

Schultz was a pro at keeping secrets. There were many reasons her life and livelihood depended on it.

Our research continues. We are developing a more in-depth piece about Schultz that will not only cover this topic but others. Many have never been explored before, including her later life in Westport.

In the meantime, we are finalizing details of a bronze plaque that we intend to affix to a stone pillar on Elm Street near Schultz’s former house. (The home — located in what is now a parking lot — was unceremoniously torn down soon after her death).

The narrative on the plaque will be brief. But it will certainly make mention of the fact that Sigrid Schultz was a courageous Jewish American patriot, whose actions helped defeat one of the greatest evils the world has ever known.

Photo Challenge #203

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. It was also Veterans Day.

In honor of all the Westport service members who gave their lives throughout American history, I posted a photo of a plaque. It lists the names of 14 Westporters who died in World War II.

It’s an important piece of who we are. But where is it?

Those names provided a clue. Many more than 14 from this town were killed in action, in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

Those 14 soldiers, sailors and airmen were members of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The plaque hangs on the church’s back wall, just inside the rear entrance.

It must be unnoticed by many. Sadly, no one knew the correct answer. Linda Amos was thinking “a church,” but she did not know which one. She came closest, until hours later Mary Cookman Schmerker nailed it.

Hopefully though, the plaque won’t be overlooked much longer. Christ & Holy Trinity congregants should seek it out. And because the church is used by so many community groups, others should find it too. (Click here to view the plaque.)

This week’s photo challenge, by contrast, is passed by every day by many Westporters. Still, how many of us actually see it?

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

Memorial Day: We Remember

On December 4, 1943, the Saturday Evening Post cover featured Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ painting of our town’s Honor Roll.

It stood in front of the old Town Hall (now Jesup Hall and Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurants). The magazine called it “Honoring the Dead.”

In fact, it honored all the Westporters then serving in World War II. In late 1943, victory was not yet assured. It was a terrible time. Many of those whose names were outside Town Hall did not make it home.

Town Hall is now on Myrtle Avenue. Plaques across the street — on Veterans Green — memorialize Westporters killed in several wars. This is the one for World War II:

Veterans Green is also where a ceremony takes place, immediately after today’s parade (approximately 10:30 a.m.). Grand marshal Larry Aasen — 95 years old, and a World War II veteran — will deliver the keynote address.

So many Westporters have sacrificed so much, to ensure the freedoms we have today.

The brief Veterans Green ceremony is one small way by which we can honor them.

(Hat tip: John Gunn)

 

Veterans Reflect On War — And Peace

Westport is awash in war stories.

This year’s WestportREADS library book — “Regeneration” — shines a light on a British officer’s refusal to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

On January 28, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit honoring Ed Vebell. Now 96, the longtime resident was a noted illustrator during World War II. He’s drawn and written about the military ever since.

World Wars I and II — and Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — come together at the WHS on Sunday, February 4 (3 p.m.). “On the Front: Veterans Reflections” offers insights into how war affects people, communities — and the peacetime that follows.

A panel of veterans — from World War II on — will provide their thoughts. But, says WHS education and programs director Nicole Carpenter — the hope is for plenty of questions and interactivity.

Ed Vebell is one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. Last May, he was grand marshal of the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Obviously, the Historical Society’s mission is to remember where we’ve been,” she says. “But veterans are an important part of America today. Every discussion we have — whether it’s about foreign policy, healthcare, whatever — involves veterans.”

This is a poignant time in history, she notes. “We’re losing World War II veterans every day. We need to hear their voices before they’re gone.”

She hopes people will ask provocative questions — leading to an “open, progressive discussion.”

That’s important. After all, it’s what every veteran in history fought to protect.