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With masks and gloves: Honoring those who lost their lives in service

Concerns about public gatherings because of COVID-19 canceled the parades and carnivals, the ice cream parties and the picnics normally held on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

But the essential task of remembering those who died in service to their country was carried on in a variety of ways in all the area towns. 

Kent and Salisbury encouraged individuals to visit the many cemeteries in town and to stop at their war memorials — while observing social distance rules.  

Those two towns have been hit the hardest by visitors overflowing their recreation areas). The beach and town Grove at Salisbury’s Lake Wononscopomuc was closed for the weekend. There were, nonetheless, overflow crowds visiting the Great Falls in Salisbury and parking at the entry to best-loved hiking trails in town. 

Kent has struggled to reduce crowds at popular spots such as the waterfall at Bull’s Bridge and the park at Kent Falls. Kent residents were invited to step out and watch an air show over the town.  Salisbury took part in the 3 p.m. national taps service, Taps Across America.

North Canaan and Canaan

The Honor Guard from Couch Pipa VFW in North Canaan left at 6:30 a.m. to visit 18 cemeteries and burial grounds in North Canaan and the town of Canaan (Falls Village). 

Ken Merrill is the chaplain for the VFW and he gave the same invocation at each stop, noting that “as comrade after comrade departs, we march on with our ranks grown thinner.”

He called on God to “Look in mercy on the widows and children of our departed comrades.”

These words were particularly moving as the group visited first Geer Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and then Geer Village, where residents watched the ceremony from behind windows. 

A gun salute and taps followed at each stop, with Sergeant of the Guard Christopher Sorrell (Marines) leading the guard, made up of Steve Bergenty (Army),  Stanley Ralph (Army), Eric Carlson (Army), Russell Duntz (Marines, entrusted with carrying the flag), Matthew Jasmin (Army), Peter Bickford (Air Force) and Lance Carlson (Army). 

Bickford was the bugler at most of the stops, although veteran Brian Ohler, a Purple Heart recipient, took on the honors at two stops. He pointed out to this reporter that the bugle has a recording of taps. The last time it was performed live on a bugle by the VFW was when Steven Bartomioli was part of the group, before he went off to college.

The VFW Honor Guard stopped at Couch Pipa and performed the invocation, salute and taps. They ended their morning with a stop at the airport in North Canaan, where they met a group that had traveled up from the southern part of the state, performing taps every mile along the way. 

The age range of the Honor Guard was varied, but some of the members noted the oldest members had not come out, to protect themselves during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Sharon

In Sharon, members of American Legion Post #126 formed a four-member Honor Guard to fire three volleys, their rifles echoing beyond the town’s surrounding hills and valleys, silent but for the tribute.  The Legion’s Honor Guard represented five branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

First Selectman Brent Colley praised Post #126 for their tribute to the fallen. “I am happy that we are able to recognize the veterans and those we have lost,” he said. “This honors their service.”

Bob Loucks (Navy), the post’s vice commander, offered short remarks and a prayer, paying respect to those whose lives were sacrificed for the good of the nation and overseeing the laying of flowers at the war memorial. The Pledge of Allegiance followed and the ceremony ended with an impromptu singing of “God Bless America,” led by a passer-by who viewed the ceremony at a distance.

Following the ceremony, veteran John Perotti (Army) spoke privately about his remembrances of Jerry Roberts, saying that he and Roberts were drafted together and met in Torrington, where they were processed for basic training. 

“We were instant buddies. After basic training, he went off to Fort Polk, La., and I stayed at Fort Knox in Kentucky,” Perotti recalled.  

Perotti’s field was related to communications and Roberts was the infantry.  “Fifteen weeks after Jerry was deployed, he was killed in Vietnam.”  

“I think of him every Memorial Day; I miss him every day,” Perotti said.

Cornwall

Early in the morning, Virginia Gold and her children visited the North Cornwall Cemetery, as has been a family tradition since just after the Civil War, and put flowers on the graves of those who served in the military.

Later, at 11 a.m., a small group gathered on the Green across from Town Hall. First Selectman Gordon Ridgway spoke first, noting that normally on Memorial Day the center of the village is crowded with between 500 and 700 people. This year, there were only a few observers, including photographer Lazlo Gyorsok and videographer Richard Griggs (whose recording of the ceremony can be seen on the town’s website at www.cornwallct.org and on YouTube).

All the participants in the ceremony wore face masks when they weren’t speaking. Ridgway said, “As we put on our masks — remembering those who have suffered in this pandemic and those who have helped — we can gain strength from remembering the sacrifices made on our behalf.”

Bill Berry, a veteran of the Vietnam war, spoke about why he joined the military, and about his good experiences getting to know the Vietnamese, or what was then called “the indigenous population.”

He described his service, and the fear that members of his own family and his wife’s family (members of the Griggs, Scoville and McCullough families) had as he departed for the war zone. 

He said he is often asked whether young people should enlist. He gave some positive points of serving in the military; he gave some negatives. 

“I have known many veterans. A few may regret their military experience. But I believe that most value the sense of pride, accomplishment, personal growth, and camaraderie that flows from being a veteran. People who have not served may not understand this but then, they do not know what they do not know.”

Dave Cadwell announced the 2020 Citizen of the Year: Bob Whitford, whom he described as “an unsung hero,” the kind of man who can always be counted on to show up when he’s needed,  “always with a smile and, after the smoke clears, a joke; always solid and dependable.”

Cadwell also paid tribute to the Cornwall residents who had served in the military and had died in the past year: Bob Pauls, Jack Bryant, Jay McDonough and Ralph “Dusty” Sandmeyer, who died on May 13 at the age of 73.

Cadwell credited Sandmeyer with creating the village of Cornwall Bridge, where he built his business, Northwest Lumber and Hardware.

“Dusty was the marshal of these services for longer than even Gordon can remember. This was his favorite day.”

Sandmeyer also loved his town, and was always ready to help anyone in need. 

“And everyone,” Cadwell said, “loved Dusty.”

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in the May 28 print edition of The Lakeville Journal

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