Local heros saluted for service at war and at home on Veterans Day
Published 8:11 am, Thursday, November 19, 2009
When Selectman Robert Mallozzi enters town hall, a series of gold-plated plaques inscribed with the names and ranks of New Canaan-bred veterans meets his gaze.
"You see the names on the wall and it hits you," he said last Wednesday at a reception following a Veterans Day memorial service at God's Acre organized by the New Canaan Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"Those same names that are on those honor rolls are the same names of the folks that came back to this town and dedicated themselves to making this community what it is today," Mallozzi said to the crowd gathered at God's Acre. He added, "When they came back [from war] they didn't say, `We did our job. We're done;' they came back here and redoubled those efforts to make this town great."
Sporting a paper poppy blossom on his lapel in honor of these local heroes, Mallozzi pointed a finger to the wall-hung metallic plates displaying names of some of the green-capped veterans who, he said, served America and then returned home to serve New Canaan.
"There is a lot of pride in this town," he said.
The root of this pride is the sacrifice and service shown by community veterans that, in many cases, are life-long New Canaan townspeople. New Canaan High School graduate John Shufeldt served three tours in the Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War. Ed Weed also graduated from NCHS before serving two years with the Army during World War II.
Joe Toppin recalled his brief transition from adolescence in New Canaan to adulthood as a uniformed member of the United States service.
"I graduated from New Canaan High School in June 1942," he said. "Two days later, I was a member of the U.S. Navy. Imagine that."
John Calitri, commander of the New Canaan Post of the VFW, transferred food, medical equipment, fuel and other supplies across Vietnam as a member of an Army transportation battalion before returning to his hometown.
"As you get older, you get to take a look back and appreciate what you have done with your life, and being in the service and serving with the army is a part of my life that I am very, very proud of," he said.
A crowd of more than 125 spectators shared Calitri's pride as they saluted the flag, recited the pledge of allegiance and celebrated the courageousness of local veterans of the past, present and future.
Guest speaker Walter Stewart Jr., a New Canaan-raised scholar and former Marine, explained how far-off places with funny-sounding names quickly grew familiar to him as he commenced service in the Vietnam War. Stewart garnered the crowd in unison for a spoken expression of gratitude to veterans, "Thank you for your service."
A moment of silence marked the strike of 11 a.m., the hour that brought the end of the First World War on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. On this date each year, Veterans Day is observed.
This Veterans Day marked the 90th anniversary of the federal holiday. The 2009 holiday was also the first since the deaths of the last living World War I veterans.
This year's memorial service drew a larger crowd than usual, Calitri said. Yet the VFW New Canaan Post, once a hearty clan of close to 500 veterans, now has about 100 members. Calitri attributes the drop in membership to death and relocation of local veterans.