Tag Archives: World War II

Ted Diamond’s Legacy

Kerstin Rao retired in 2021, after 2 decades as a teacher in Bedford Middle School’s gifted program.

Among her many wonderful experiences was the chance to meet World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator Ted Diamond. He died on Tuesday, at 105.

The longtime Westporter — who (among many other accomplishments) served 3 terms as 2nd Selectman — made quite a mark on Kerstin’s students.

And on her. She writes:

When I read on “06880” that Ted Diamond had passed, I found my heart filled with gratitude for the brief times I got to know him during his Veterans Day visits, when I taught at Bedford Middle School.

For at least 2 decades, possibly longer, Bedford’s 8th grade social studies teachers have organized visits by local veterans each November. The impact of these visits is often profound. Students would come into my classes the rest of the week bringing up points the veterans had talked about, wondering what they would have done if they were in the same situation, and curious about ways to serve the country.

Kerstin Rao and Ted Diamond.

My classroom was usually the gathering place as veterans arrived. The PTA would put together a breakfast, and the vets used that morning time to catch up with longtime friends. There was plenty of talk of grandchildren, ailments, and some razzing between the branches of service. However, I also observed how the older vets were genuinely curious to hear from the younger service members about their experiences.

Whenever I could, I brought my sketch journal. I quietly sat in the back of different classrooms as the vets shared their stories. Some years I made drawings of the men and women as they spoke, jotting down the insights that moved my heart. I’m glad I captured a sketch of Ted and some of his thoughts in my journal.

In 2016, Ted told how some men in his unit held deep racial biases. But when they were pinned down and the Tuskegee Airmen saved their lives, those biases were obliterated.

Kerstin Rao’s 2016 journal includes a sketch of Ted Diamond, and some of the important ideas he shared with Bedford Middle School 8th graders.

In 2017, he brought a photo of his unit. He pointed to a few faces, saying this one was from Michigan, this one was from Colorado. He said he could have brought photos of his wing shot off, or the engine of the plane across the way on fire, but to him, this was the single most important picture. He wanted the students to understand that no matter where we are from, we are one country, working together.

A photo Ted Diamond (top row, 2nd from right) shared with the students.

Ted Diamond stood out to me because every year, without fail, his stories focused on our shared humanity. He had a graciousness and gentle humor that made his listeners lean in. He took us into the moment during pivotal times of his World War II battle experiences. He always left us with the message that we have far more in common than we realize, and this is where the true promise of our country resides.

In my lifetime, I’ve never witnessed such bitter division in America as we have lived through these past few years. Nationally and locally, I am troubled to notice a greater willingness to violate the rights of others, speak in inflamed rhetoric without a willingness to listen, and openly expressed innuendo that violence could be inevitable.

Violence is not inevitable.

Discord is not inevitable.

When we pause a moment, we realize that we dishonor the legacy of our veterans if we allow our country to erode from within. I heard this expressed by several veterans over the years. If Ted has left us a call to action, it is this: Each of us has a choice. We could pull further apart, or we could strengthen our country by working together. We can choose integrity, understanding, and connection which becomes a service to our country.

For this message which guides my own path forward, I am truly grateful. Thank you, Ted.


Ted Diamond’s family is still preparing his obituary. But they sent along a few photos. Here is a century-plus, of a well-lived life.

Ted Diamond is the youngest child in this photo.

Ted Diamond, as a World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator.

Ted and Carol Diamond’s wedding. They were married for 75 years.

Ted and Carol Diamond, and their 2 sons.

Carol and Ted Diamond.

Ted Diamond, looking pensive.

Ted Diamond, with his great-grandson Peter.

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Tom Feeley And Mike Brody’s Memorial Day Tale

As Memorial Day approaches, longtime Westporter Tom Feeley writes:

It was 1945. The war in Germany was almost over. But SFC Mike Brody and the POWs did not know it.

Fast forward to 1973. I moved from San Francisco to Westport. As a Vietnam veteran, I joined VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 VFW. I walked in the Memorial Day parade, attended the solemn Veterans Day ceremony, and made a bunch of new WWII NCO friends with CIBs, even a Silver Star.

My left shoulder had the Third Infantry Division Patch from 1/15 INF CAN DO, so I was real good with the WWII guys. I also led Audie Murphy’s platoon.

Junior Bieling

Westport veteran and Silver Star awardee Junior Bieling usually wore a coat over his uniform to hide his medal, out of modesty. He owned JR’s Hot Dog Stand.

I busted his chops: “You should be very proud. If an enlisted man earns a Silver Star, he really earned it.”

“Not too many officers would say that,” he replied.

On Fridays if I went in for a dog, I left smashed on his vodka screwdrivers. “Tom, the booze is on the house, but ya gotta pay for the dogs!”

There was also a burly Tech SFC Mike Brody, with ribbons and a CIB. He was from Brooklyn. I’m from Queens, with Brooklyn friends, so we became buddies. We ran into each other at the beach occasionally, and chatted.

He was almost 6 feet tall, built like a tanker. He had a contagious smile and a very quick wit.

The three of us hung out in the VFW bar after ceremonies or meetings. Those guys knew everyone.

Fast forward again, to 2000. I owned a boutique real estate firm. I had sold a beautiful modern home in Weston to inventor genius Bob Soloff and his wife Carol, also from Brooklyn. They held a beautiful catered open house for friends after the sale.

To my surprise, SFC Mike Brody showed up. We were a few hours into drinking when I asked Carol, ”Where do you know this guy Mike from?“

“He’s my little Jewish buddy from Brooklyn!” she said.

“What? Mike? Brody is a Jewish name?!”

In Jackson Heights you were Irish Catholic, Italian or Jewish, with a sprinkling of Protestants. We busted the Jews’ yarmulkes on Saturday, and they busted our Sunday ties or knickers.

Mike turned to Carol. “You’ve asked me about the war many times. I’ve had enough to drink that I’ll finally share my story with you and Tom.”

He continued:

“We were laying field radio wire, got encircled, captured and put in a concentration camp. I was a platoon sergeant, so I had some freedom to move about and interact with guards. who randomly asked to see my dog tags.

World War II prisoner of war camp, in Germany.

“Months later a new slender guard showed up. He was quite different, because he didn’t walk his post bored. He was alert and interested in what was going on behind the fence.

“I saw him a lot, and tried to be nice. He asked me where I was from. When I said Brooklyn, his eyes lit up. He called me ‘Brooklyn!’ from then on.

“One day he was looking for me. He pointed to the far corner of the camp, for me to go there. With a corner post and a lamp pole, it was hidden from the guard towers. He put his index finger to his lips and in perfect English said, ‘Not a word! Give me your dog tags. Return here tomorrow after breakfast. Not a word!'”

“I figured with no tags, I was dead. The next day we met. He returned one tag on the long chain — missing the long chain. He said ‘tank treads,’ and disappeared.

Some dog tags identified soldiers as Jewish with an “H,” for “Hebrew.”

“The next day, everyone was lined up for dog tags. ‘Jews over here!’ The tag the guard had returned was badly scuffed and twisted, like it was run over by a tank. The ‘JUD’ in the lower right corner had been mangled off.

“All the Jews were separated, and never seen again.”

Mike later learned that the guard was an American college student. He had been visiting his grandparents when he was conscripted and placed in a concentration camp, where he could spy with his bilingual skills.

Mike freed the guard by telling rescuers that the kid was an American citizen, and that he had saved Mike’s life.

That’s just one out of countless stories that our veterans can tell. As they gather for tomorrow’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony — and meet at places like the VFW, to share memories, socialize and enjoy their lives — let’s not forget every man and woman who has served our country.

All gave some. Some gave all.

Merci, Marigny!

Here in the US, it’s Mothers Day. Across the country, families gather to celebrate Mom.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker got up early this morning, and headed to her Town Hall office. She was there to honor a sibling — well, Westport’s sibling.

Very few residents here know, but we have a sister town in France: Marigny.

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — was there. It’s just 25 miles from Utah Beach.

A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

When the war ended, Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School, and a graduate of prestigious Sorbonne Université — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.

Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.” Charlotte MacLear visited our sister town 3 times. Each time, she was honored and adored.

“Pharmacie Westport,” in Marigny.

We forgot the relationship. Marigny never did.

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — town officials invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant.

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

That was nearly 30 years ago. Once again, Westport has lost its connection with our sister town.

But still, Marigny remembers.

This morning — early afternoon in France — they dedicated a room in their Town Hall in Charlotte MacLear’s memory. It is now, and forever, “Salle Charlotte MacLear.”

For today’s event, Marigny officials put 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker front and center. The other photos show members of the Marigny town government, and a photo from the 1940s.

Tooker participated via Zoom.

Mayor Fabrice Lemazurier explained that the room is where the Town council meets, making “all the important decisions concerning Marigny-Le-Luzon’s future.” It is a town “proud of its history, ready to face its future.”

He noted that “Mrs. MacLear and her fellow Americans gave our territory a helping hand and restored smiles, particularly to our younger citizens.”

He added:

War once again on European soil certainly reminds us of the darkest hours of our history. It is our duty today to do everything to restore and preserve peace. I believe that in a certain way this is what we are doing today – to remember and never forget.

Marigny Mayor Fabrice Lemazurier, via Zoom.

After “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played on trumpet, 1st Selectwoman Tooker spoke. Beginning and ending in flawless French, she described Westport’s location near the United Nations, and noted how many residents have lived and worked abroad.

She said that we understand our connection to the world, and are proud to participate as global citizens. She called this a “remarkable and heartwarming honor,” and said that we share “brotherhood and neighborliness in this volatile world.”

Then deputy mayor Adèle Hommet said that her town wants to ensure that the room “lives up to the spirit of Charlotte MacLear who, as a schoolteacher with a determination to promote international relations, as well as her receptiveness toward all of our citizens whom she met, marked her as an exceptional person.”

She added that she hopes Westport and Marigny students can meet and learn from each other.

… and 1st Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker.

Remarks came too from René Gautier, who as a child benefited from Westporters’ kindness; Gilles Quinquenel, who recalled the dark days of World War II, and Philippe Gosselin, who recounted Franco-American relations going back to 1776.

He included Charlotte MacLear’s name on his roster of great Americans, right there with President Roosevelt, and Generals Eisenhower and Patton.

“Long live La Manche! Long live Normandy! Long live France, and long live the United States!” he said.

The ceremony concluded with Mayor Lemazurier wishing that Americans and French, on both sides of the Atlantic, can “come to the aid of the Ukrainian people in their moment of need, as we were over 75 years ago,” and Marigny’s representative in Parliament expressing the hope of meeting Tooker in France.

Then, saying “It’s not really goodbye; we’ll meet again,” the mayor introduced the final piece of music: “Auld Lang Syne.”

I was involved in some of the emails and phone calls between Marigny officials, and the 1st Selectwomen’s office. French officials asked me if Charlotte MacLear is still remembered fondly in Westport.

Perhaps a few people here still recall her name. In our sister town, our French friends will never forget her.

Marigny and Westport were united today, in red, white and blue.

FUN FACT: Westport has 2 other sister cities, according to Wikipedia: St. Petersburg, Russia and Yangzhou, China. Read the back stories here.

Ted Aldrich: A Commuter’s Tale Of How George Marshall And Henry Stimson Won The War

As Metro-North trains grew progressively slower, Fairfield County commuters groaned.

When bad weather, aging infrastructure or acts of God turned delays of minutes into hours, men and women gnashed their teeth, or wished the windows opened so they could jump out.

Ted Aldrich was thrilled.

For 8 years, the banker used his time between Greens Farms and Grand Central not to try to answer emails, watch movies on a phone screen or wish he were anywhere else.

Aldrich read history books. He organized notes. Then he wrote a book.

Ted Aldrich

Not just any book. He wrote 800 pages — then edited it down to 500 — on the odd relationship, and amazing success, of George Marshall and Henry Stimson.

The general and diplomat, Aldrich says, are hugely responsible for America’s logistical success in World War II. It’s a fresh area of study, one no historian has previously examined.

Yet Aldrich is not a historian. He’s a banker.

And this is his first book ever.

The Rowayton native and former Brien McMahon High School all-state soccer player has been a history buff as long as he remembers. But after playing at Colgate University, living and working in Europe, then moving to Westport in 1999, that passion was limited to reading on trains.

In 2008 he realized he could put that commuting time to productive use, by writing a book he’d long thought about. He had a subject: the collaboration between the unlikely duo of the U.S. Army chief of staff and President Roosevelt’s Secretary of War.

From adjoining offices at the Pentagon, the career military man and the Wall Street lawyer — both from vastly different backgrounds — created and led a war machine that helped crush a powerful enemy.

Blending politics, diplomacy, bureaucracy and war fighting, they transformed an outdated, poorly equipped army into a modern fighting force.  They developed strategy and logistics, coordinated with allies, and planned for post-war peace.

General George Marshall, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Aldrich had the idea for the story. But with Metro-North’s spotty cell service, conducting the all-important research — during the only time he had available — was impossible.

Then he stumbled on Stimson’s 10,000-page diary. Because the men occupied adjoining offices, most of their collaboration took place in conversations. Little was written down — except in the diary.

It was housed at Yale, but not digitized. Aldrich paid to have it converted, and put it on a thumb drive. Suddenly, the train became his office.

The longer the commute was, the more productive and happier he became. Research took 3 years. Writing took 5 more.

Adlrich looked forward to to long business flights to Asia too. While most passengers slept or watched movies, Aldrich wrote, edited, and wrote some more.

That was the easy part. Selling his work to publishers seemed impossible. Major houses were not interested in a long book by a non-historian who had never written anything before.

Neither were smaller publishers.

Finally, Stackpole Books responded to Aldrich’s cold call. Three days later, they offered him a contract.

The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration That Won World War II will be published April 15. Best-selling author Walter Isaacson calls it “a valuable addition to history.”

Noted writer Evan Thomas adds:

The contrast to the current day will pop out at readers. Aldrich writes with a confident, readable style that carries you along. Through these men we remember how America truly did become great. At the same time, Aldrich has a clear eye about their foibles and blind spots. Stimson and Marshall were Olympian figures, yet in Aldrich’s capable hands, human and relatable.

Unlike many writers who head out on book tours, Aldrich has a full-time job. His personal promotion will be limited to groups in the tri-state area, and Washington — talks he can give while still working his day job.

Meanwhile, he’d love to write another book. But he has to find the right subject — and make sure much of the material is available on a thumb drive.

On the other hand, at the rate Metro-North is going, Aldrich may have even more time to write than before.

(For more information and to order Ted Aldrich’s book, click here.) 

Remembering Nicholas Rossi

Nicholas Rossi — the World War II veteran who won the hearts of Westporters after moving here 3 years ago, and served memorably as grand marshal of last May’s Memorial Day parade — died peacefully yesterday morning. He was 99 years old.

Nicholas Rossi

Before his Memorial Day honor, I had the privilege and joy of interviewing him. Here is the story I posted.


Nicholas Rossi’s mother did not want him to join the military.

Her first-born son, with 3 brothers and 1 sister, had just graduated from Long Island’s Oyster Bay High School. But World War II was raging. Her father had fought in World War I. Nicholas ended up in the infantry.

If he was going to be in the service, his mother thought, at least get a different assignment. Thanks to someone his father knew — he worked as a caretaker on an estate — Rossi ended up in the Army Air Corps.

After training in Texas, his 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron was assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England.

They flew B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers in the European Theater. Rossi was a technical sergeant.

Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.

“I was not a professional engineer,” he recalls from his home in Westport, where — age 98 — he lives with his son Paul and daughter-in-law Marguerite. “But that aircraft was like a baby to me.”

Besides taking care of the planes on the ground, Rossi flew multiple missions. Seated behind the pilot and co-pilot, he handled fuel and any mechanical problems.

The Germans “shot the hell out of us,” Rossi says. But he was never shot down.

He survived the war. Now — over 75 years later — Nicholas Rossi is the grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade, on May 31.

When the war ended, Rossi’s mother hoped he’d come home. But superiors suggested he stay after his discharge, and help locate and identify the remains of military personnel.

He spent the next 4 years in Liege, Belgium as a civilian, employed by the government with the American Graves Registration Command.

Nick Rossi, during wintertime service.

“It was not a nice job,” he says simply. But it provided closure for families, particularly those that traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons and husbands.

After returning to Long Island in 1949, he entered Hofstra University on the GI Bill. “They treated soldiers well,” Rossi says. After graduation he earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

A successful career in the furniture industry followed, with Kroehler, Thomasville and Lexington. As a manufacturer’s representative and regional sales manager — and with an intuitive sense for sales and business — he earned accolades and awards.

After more than 40 years — by then in his 70s — Rossi retired. He had more time for hobbies like golf (he’d won the Brookville Country Club championship, and played into his 90s), gardening, Knights of Columbus, Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the country club board.

He especially enjoyed his many grandchildren.

Rossi first met Betty Braun on the Long Island Rail Road, heading home from work. Married for 60 years, they raised 5 children — Paul, Christine, Caren, Carla and Peter — in the house he built in Mill Neck.

When Betty died 3 years ago, Rossi moved to Paul’s house in Greens Farms. Almost instantly, he became a Senior Center regular. He had a regular lunch table group (ladies flocked to him), and enjoyed chair aerobics, bingo, conversation groups and Dr. Paul Epstein’s mind/body sessions. All that is now on hold, due to COVID.

“He’s taken full advantage of Westport,” his daughter-in-law — and ardent companion — says.

“The war made him resilient. He just picked up, came here and rolled with it.”

Nicholas Rossi in Westport. He and his grandson Nick built this model of the B-17 bomber Rossi serviced and flew in during World War II. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Rossi also got involved with St. Luke’s Church. He met fellow veterans at the VFW. He especially loved watching his grandchildren Caroline, Charlotte and Nick perform as actors, musicians and athletes at Staples High School.

Even before he moved here, Rossi attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Green, where his grandchildren performed.

Later this month, he’ll be back for another parade, wreath-laying and “Taps.”

This time, it will be in a well-deserved seat of honor.


Nick Rossi — the grandson and namesake of last year’s Memorial Day grand marshal — delivered remarks for his grandfather. It was a remarkable speech, one that deserves to be read today as we honor our friend, neighbor, and member of the “Greatest Generation.” Click here to see. 

Grand marshal/grandfather Nicholas Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)

John Gould’s “Rusty Rainbow”

Surviving the London Blitz taught John Gould perseverance and grit.

World War II was horrific. When John was 2 years old, his father was killed in the Royal Navy. Three uncles were wounded. Another became a prisoner of war.

At home in London, hundreds of planes dropped thousands of bombs, day and night. His mother, sister, grandparents, aunts and cousins sheltered with him in a cupboard under the basement stairs.

But they survived. Gould emigrated to the US. and settled in Westport. For nearly 3 decades he was a well-known arborist and piano player (including a stint with the Average White Band).

The war is now a long-ago memory. Yet it lives on in “Rusty Rainbow.” That’s a musical he wrote, and has worked on for over 2 decades.

John Gould, taking a break from work.

He’s still fine-tuning it — talk about perseverance! – but he’d love to be able to get it in front of people who can make things happen.

This would not be its premiere. Over 20 years ago —  on November 20, 2001 — it opened at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Westporter Louis Pietig directed; Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and James Naughton, and Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple were in the audience. They loved it, Gould says.

Set in London in the aftermath of World War II, “Rusty Rainbow” tells the story of a little boy, found by air raid wardens on the roof of a bombed building.

Polly and Rusty dancing in the garden of Bluebirds Over Farm.
(Illustration by Dominique Gillain from John Gould’s “Rusty Rainbow” book)

“It’s the classic struggle of an innocent, pitted against a cynical world of greed and avarice,” Gould explains.

“But impossible odds and evil adversaries are no match for the musically gifted runaway orphan. Rusty — who thinks he fell off a rainbow — is assisted in his search to find the rainbow of his drams by the seeming magic of a ragman, his horse and a dog.”

Rehearsal for “Rusty Rainbow.” Paul Newman’s goddaughter, Keleigh Brockman, is the little girl sitting next to the snail at the extreme left.

Gould’s 25 songs weave the story together, in an uplifting, humorous way. Engaging and philosophical, they promote goodness and sensibility, harking back to an era when the world — having just defeated a great evil — struggles to become a better, safer place.

A few years after that Ridgefield Playhouse premiere, Jerry Bock — the composer and lyricist of “Fiddler on the Roof” — read the show, and heard the music. He told Gould it would make a great animated musical movie.

“Now, if only I knew how to do that,” Gould says.

Hey: He survived the bleakest days of World War II. It’s time for his “Rusty Rainbow” to shine.

He’ll find a way.

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.