Presented at the Cheshire Veterans Memorial Plaza, Cheshire, Connecticut
Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, 2017, 11 a.m.
By Jerry R. Lodynsky
John White called to ask me to speak to you today about this Memorial Plaza site since 30 years ago I became involved with a remarkable group of Cheshire Veterans and their families. I was entrusted to reflect on my experiences with them in developing an everlasting tribute to their valiant military brothers and sisters. I will try to interject some of their stories as I recall the various aspects of this Plaza’s evolution.
During the mid 1950s and early 1960s, leading up to Viet Nam, I witnessed how our country went into an anti-communist fervor built up by the McCarthy era, the Soviet space race, and the apocalyptic Cuban Missile Crisis. Our nation’s leaders were determined to prevent the spread of communism by fighting it in the inhospitable jungles of Viet Nam.
For those who didn’t experience those times, imagine yourself leaving the serenity of Cheshire in the 1960s and six months later finding yourself huddled up in a jungle firing a rifle that recoils you 10 feet. Personally, I grew up in the inner city of New Haven where most of my Hillhouse High School classmates enlisted or were drafted into service thinking it would be their best escape from the slums of New Haven. And many of those who were lucky enough to return were never the same. They came back to a society that rejected them, a community that was dissolving due to urban redevelopment, and a sense of living without purpose, finding an escape from their experiences in a bottle, a needle or a snort. I’m not aware of how it was here in Cheshire, but I know that many of the millions of draftees who served on our behalf were never celebrated, decorated or rewarded for their months of despair in the jungles of Viet Nam and Cambodia. By the end of the war about 8 and a half million Americans had been called up to serve in the military during the Viet Nam era. Fortunately, according to available records, only one Cheshire resident lost his life. US Marine John Allen Gravil, who was killed in Quang Tri, VietNam. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, May 20, 1967.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, a somber memorial to the 58,220 Viet Nam veterans had been revealed, much to the chagrin of the war’s under-appreciated survivors.
In 1984, only two years after the Viet Nam Memorial Wall was built in Washington, Cheshire teacher Edith Tuxbury complained about the fact that, Cheshire, a town she considered to be very patriotic, had nothing to honor the returning veterans.
Her request, however, was preceded by a Nationally controversial event.
Looking back, it was November 13, 1982, when Maya Lin introduced her design for the Viet Nam Memorial Wall on the mall in Washington DC. The 21-year-old Yale art student was herself surprised to hear that it was her design that was selected. She wrote of her design “I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.” It was interpreted to be a request to bury the Viet Nam war as a forgotten chapter of the American story.
Regardless of the praise you hear about the Viet Nam Wall today, back in 1988, when the Memorial Plaza was being planned, those were not the emotions that most of our Cheshire veterans felt. For many Viet Nam veterans, this black wall was a somber reminder of their past, and the friends they lost, and it did little to relieve them of their personal anguish. They felt that there should have been a tribute to all those Americans who fought for our nation, and they also deserved the same support and recognition given to the Veterans of WWII and the Korean Conflict.
It was not only the veterans of Cheshire that felt that way.
In Washington, Secretary of the Interior James Watt tried to change the design site of Maya Lin’s Dark Wall but federal mandates prevented him from altering the designer’s intent. Nationally acclaimed sculptor Frederick Hart called Maya Lin’s design “nihilistic.” Ross Perot pulled his donation of $160,000 because to him it represented a trench. Viet Nam war veteran Tom Cathcart said it represented “a universal color of shame and sorrow and degradation” as well as a subliminal anti-war statement. And, even our own President, Ronald Reagan, along with 27 Congressmen called it “a political statement of shame and dishonor.”
5-years later, in September 1987, was when I first heard of the proposed Veterans Memorial Plaza project. A group of Cheshire veterans gathered together to answer the call of Ms, Edith Tuxbury, the teacher that had children of Viet Nam war veterans in her classes in the early 1980s. In 1984 she apparently approached several Cheshire Town organizations to tell them about a need to create a place where she could bring her students to honor their parents, for their services to our nation. This group of veterans eventually caught the attention of our Town Council led by Gil Leslie and Town Manager Ed O’Neill. So, on July 12, 1988, the Town Council, consisting of David Borowy, Richard Conrad, Thomas Hackett, Richard Hagstrom, Joy Hostage, Sandra Mouris, John Perrotti, Jr, and David Schrumm endorsed the Memorial Plaza concept and shortly after, they met with Robert Sapack of the architectural firm Sapack, Ames & Whitaker. They authorized the Beautification Committee, headed by Cheshire residents Lee MacParland and a veteran of the Korean War Frank Papandrea, to allocate $30,000 to seed the centerpiece project, under the auspices of the Town’s Economic Development Director, George Heston.
I was not involved with the first part of the Cheshire Memorial Plaza which began with the creation of the back wall. Their plans included the semicircular wall of honor that was to display the names of all the veterans of Cheshire that served during all of our nation’s wars.
Starting in late 1987, veterans groups, social organizations and the Cheshire Historical Society began collecting names of Cheshire citizens, who served their country during wars and conflicts, from 1775 through 1975, from the Revolutionary War through Viet Nam.
The curved wall would hold a series of curved cast brass plates with the names of Cheshire residents who served to preserve our American freedom. To be eligible a veteran had to be a Cheshire resident at time of enlistment. The committee used multiple sources of information, and spent nearly two years fact-finding and verifying their information. Among those participating in the inquiries were the Daughters of the American Revolution, General Humphrey’s Branch No. 1 Sons of the American Revolution, The Cheshire Historical Society, many Connecticut’s Veterans groups, Cheshire Town Hall Records, and residents’ responses to local news media requests for submissions by past or present family members.
Officially, the committee was formed in July 1988, and its original Cheshire Memorial Plaza committee members included the teacher Mrs. William Tuxbury; Rev. George Engelhardt from the United Methodist Church; a Daughter of the American Revolution Mrs. Jane Russell French; WWII Veteran and then President of the American Legion Wilson Grime; Viet Nam Veteran and Cheshire Police Chief George Merriam; WWII Veteran Joseph Johnson; and the Chairman of the Committee, WWII veteran Richard Miller. At the time other contributing members included Korean War Veteran, Frank Papandrea, WWII Veteran Clifton Hartman, WWII Veteran Fitch Guilford, Veteran Al Adinolfi, , and WWII Veteran Hank Carson. Hank is well remembered as the head of Cheshire’s Annual Memorial Day parade and his service to our nation with the 11th Airborne Division, as they fought in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines. Most notable was that he took part in the first troop invasion of Japan. When asked about his call of duty he answered “We went over with about 10,000 men and about 6,000 came home.” His support for this tribute to our veterans had a similar answer to that of teacher Edith Tuxbury, to keep the children involved, to honor the efforts of our veterans, and to never forget their heroism. Likewise, WWII Veteran Clifton Hartman who’s life expectancy as a bomb-and-mine diffuser was supposed to be only 6-months, yet he survived in Cheshire till he passed away, age 97, shortly before Memorial Day, May 2017. Cliff proudly claimed that he was one of the first people to invade the European continent. He was one of the first 8 servicemen that landed the night of July 8, 1943, before the invasion of Sicily, as his job was to diffuse the on-shore mines to allow for the Allied invasion of Sicily on the following day.
Fortunately, our local veterans still have Viet Nam War Vet John White who persistently continues to be the veterans’ biggest advocate. John keeps battling away to keep the deeds of his fellow patriots vibrant and alive within our schools and our community. Hopefully, all of our local veterans continue to appreciate his commitment to their cause, because he clearly understands the everlasting bonds of comradery felt amongst veterans from one generation to the other.
In 1988, those were the heroic men and women that inspired us all.
Work on the wall continued through 1988 and 1989, and by December 1989 the committee compiled a list of 1,286 Cheshire Veterans: 242 for the years 1775 to 1883 during the American Revolution; 9 veterans from the War of 1812; 129 servicemen from the Civil War including Medal of Honor recipient Eri Woodbury; 1 veteran of the 1898 Spanish-American War; 105 veterans serving between1917-1918 during WW I, 429 WWII veterans who served between 1940-1946; 109 Korean War Veterans; and 262 Viet Nam Conflict Veterans who served between 1964 and 1975. I recall that the biggest controversy about eligibility came during the Revolutionary War years when a person would serve in the colonial war for 3 weeks, then went back home to do chores for their families, then returned back for another 3 weeks of duty, only to go back home to do some farming, and then return back to military service, etc, etc. The Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution decided to accept a minimum of 6 months accumulated service time to be included on Cheshire’s Memorial wall. I have no idea of how they were able to confirm that information but I know that it took them a lot longer to give us their confirmations.
More recently, on November 11, 2008, another ceremony was held adding another 77 people to the wall including 14 added to the Revolutionary War list, 3 added to the French & Indian War, 1 added to the Civil War, 1 added to the World War II list, 3 added to the Korean War, 26 added to the Viet Nam list, 10 added to Post-Viet Nam and 19 added to the Iraq War period since 1991.
As a side note, while it was being constructed, some members of Cheshire’s Beautification Committee were considering plantings along the inside base of the curved back wall however our member plantsman, Korean War Veteran and owner of Tower Farms, Frank Papandrea didn’t agree. He insisted that the area be open, more gracefully simple, with little or no maintenance requirements. The lights were originally meant to be half-domed but the Public Works Department changed the design because of their expressed concerns with snow-removal. Disappointingly, the lights had to be laid flat into the walkway.
I can’t recall them all, but many other veterans also attended several of the memorial plaza planning meetings. I do recall that one of the best things about this project, was that, as we were getting more and more involved with the project, we were beginning to see much more interaction between the different generations of Veterans.
When this whole project began, it seemed to me that there was somewhat of a divide in the manner in which the generations of veterans perceived each other. As a bystander, I witnessed several misunderstandings between the generations. The older WWII and Korean War veterans couldn’t grasp some of the resentment the Viet Nam veterans expressed about their experiences. The elders appeared to view their military missions with a more clearly defined purpose. Their enemy was well defined and their success was measurable. Their resolve was clearly unquestionable. On the other hand, the Viet Nam vets whose resolve was just as unquestionable, often faced indiscernible enemies and missions that were frequently immeasurable. They were called to duty many times in inhospitable jungles, where it was difficult to measure their success or appreciate their valor. An interesting observation came from former POW, now Senator John McCain who lost trust in the cause because he felt that our “Government wasn’t telling us the truth.” During the Viet Nam war we saw no maps of territorial gains, no smiles of joy or gratitude from rescued populations, and the veterans exalted most often were those that returned home not carrying our flag but draped under it.
Around September 1988 I first heard about a call for a sculptural design as the centerpiece for the Cheshire Memorial Plaza. A request for conceptual entries went out to arts organizations, art schools, and universities around Connecticut. There was no financial compensation for the entries so they were mostly conceptual ideas. The selection committee was composed of 12 members including people from the Beautification Committee, the Veterans Memorial Plaza Committee, members of the Town Council, and other Town civic organizations. I later found that, on Oct. 10, 1988, out of the 20 considered final designs, mine was the only one that received all 12-votes.
I had designed it to be an eternal, stoic reminder of the individuals of our town who lived, or live amongst us, who had served at a great personal sacrifice to preserve our way of life. It was designed to evoke very personal interpretations in each contemplative viewer.
Compared to Maya Lin’s Memorial, I wanted to create a more hopeful, more appreciative tribute to our veterans – an evolutionary symbol of human spirit that transcends time. So I wanted to incorporate a more universal theme, something that could be easily interpreted as a heroic tribute to those that fought to preserve our freedom and independence.
My first choice for the title of this sculpture was actually “Homage,” but the Memorial Plaza Committee liked the words that I used to actually describe its meaning, my presentation to them called it a symbolic paradox of life, expressing uplifting hope, and a recognition of grief and loss, so they suggested that “Paradox” would be a more descriptive title, and I agreed.
My inspiration for the design depicts a combination of lifetime experiences. The essence of my inspiration occurred way back in August, 1978, when my wife and I headed north on our first vacation as husband and wife. We drove nearly seven-and-a-half hours to arrive at beautiful Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. As we drove down the Park Loop Road we experienced its awe-inspiring vistas.
There, at the edge of the mighty North Atlantic Ocean, stood the magnificent sentinels of our continent and nation. Hundreds of feet tall, we watched the pink granite cliffs withstand the battering of the relentless thunderous waves that have been pounding away at these majestic cliffs for millions of years. And rising above them was the pinnacle of our National Anthem’s dawn’s early light, for it is this spot, at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, where our nation’s first sunlight appears. Every American day starts here, at the highest point of Mt. Desert Island, and it makes its way across the United States, from “sea to shining sea.” If you’ve never visited this National Park, I suggest you experience this sensation yourselves.
This was why I first suggested that we use the Pink Granite from Maine; however Dick Miller had a much better idea. He thought we should use a stone mined more locally, a stone that actually upholds our symbol of liberty, the same pink granite that is used at the base of the “Statue of Liberty.” After discussing its chancy physical and structural properties with expert stoneworkers, we heard several pros and cons about its sculptural characteristics. After a week of deliberations we decided to take a chance with Branford’s Stony Creek granite. We contacted the quarry and they cut out a 15×10 ft block.
Shortly after, the Cheshire Town Council under chairman Gilbert Leslie Jr. voted to fund it with an additional $60,000 but, surprisingly, the Veterans Memorial Plaza Committee decided not accept the Town Council’s generous offer.
There was a good reason for the Committee’s rejection. At first there was not much interest in the overall project by the Cheshire community, or the veterans. It was assumed that it was just another patriotic gesture by the Town government to appease the WWII generation. But Committee Chairman Dick Miller wanted more. The teacher who raised the issue wanted the Plaza to be directed towards the children of Viet Nam War veterans but, in the beginning, only the usual group of senior veterans became involved. Dick Miller called a meeting of his Memorial Plaza Committee with a single purpose in mind, to try to get as many veterans involved as possible. He wanted all veterans to become involved, to have a vested interest in the project and, since the Plaza was intended to honor them all, he decided that we, as a community, should express our gratefulness for their sacrifices by chipping-in to pay for this tribute, and to not rely on taxpayer funding. This meant the Veterans Memorial Plaza Committee needed to get the entire community involved. It was purposefully meant to bring our townspeople together to build an everlasting tribute to the sacrifices made by our veterans – past, present and future.
After a year of fundraisers and donations the Veterans Memorial Plaza Committee raised over $60,000, enough to pay for their centerpiece design, and to present it to the Town with the promise that the Town would administer the site forever.
After the Committee decided to make it a self-funded project, contributions began to come from various local and state veterans’ groups, social organizations, Cheshire businesses, and over 1,000 townspeople. The original cost estimate for the project was about $90,000 but the actual price came in around $68,000 due to cost savings realized from operating efficiencies in Vermont.
The manufacturer was able to complete the project a month earlier than expected. The fact that Dick Miller and I traveled 11 hours to and from Barre, VT every month probably had something to do with the pace of their productivity. Besides being very persistent with the sculpture’s rate of progress, Dick Miller loved to drive to Barre, Vermont. At the time, in 1989, my pregnant wife and 5-year-old son never realized that the quiet, true gentleman became an all-out speed demon once he got into his hot red sports car. Dick always tried to set a new record time for what should normally have been a 5-1/2 hour trip.
Once my design was selected, and while the sculpture was being constructed, the Memorial Plaza Committee continuously provided me with their specific criteria, which had to be met within the context of my original design. So, this once amorphous geological mass had to be transformed into an organic form. The tear-shaped opening gave the flame an ethereal quality, a lightness belying its ruggedness. At certain times of the day, its diamond-polished surface appears to flicker and the onyx black reflective base, which exemplifies cinder, provides a reflective glow that enhances its radiance.
The project began in the basement of my home on Williams Road, with a creation of a quarter-scale clay mold that was used to create a resin model cast by town resident Tucker Deming. Having heard that the most prominent Granite manufacturers were located in the Barre and Montpelier Vermont region, Dick Miller and I made two trips to find the most accommodating and talented stone carvers. Our first choice was a world-renowned company named Buttura & Gherardi, known for several of the world’s most notable granite sculptures. Except for a few apprehensions about working with this particular Stony Creek pink granite our negotiations with them went smoothly until a deadline was discussed. Apparently, a year was not enough. The artisans informed us that their workers went back home to Italy and Greece during the summertime for 1 to 2 months so deadlines were not included in their contracts.
The following visit we met with a company in Barre called Granite Importers Inc., – which allowed us to meet and interview their in-house sculptor, James Sardonis, who lived in nearby Randolph, VT. Jim had just completed a wonderful and unique gray granite sculpture “Reverence” which depicted two whales diving into a field of grass. Also, after we awarded Jim our “Paradox” project, another designer at Yale University heard about it and contacted Jim to work on a Yale tribute bench made of grey stone granite, to honor former Yale President and Commissioner of Baseball Bart Giamatti. That monument currently resides at Yale’s Memorial Quadrangle.
Jim Sardonis’s close relationship with the highly acclaimed granite manufacturer proved to be an extremely productive combination delivering it as promised on time and at a reduced cost.
The site was one expansive building with programmable eight-foot diameter diamond embedded saws, grinding and sanding machinery, and 50 ft hoists. Using precise electronic calipers the sculptural model, now on display in the vestibule of the Cheshire Town Hall, was actually used to program the equipment and tools. It was manufactured on a grand scale to overpower granite’s extremely difficult physical properties as granite is one of the hardest materials on earth.
This particular Stony Creek granite was formed 600 million years ago from the geophysical pressures caused by a collision of continents, currently identified as the continent of Africa and the northeastern shores of North America. As the continental collisions occurred the pressure and thermal forces produced magma and an igneous rock composed of feldspar, quartz and other captured minerals. After it cooled, the result was this pink granite that we see before us. Branford’s Stony Creek quarry provided this highly treasured pink granite, which, besides the Statue of Liberty, was used for the Battle Monument at West Point, the Grand Central Station, the Brooklyn Bridge and many other historical sites. After it was mined at the Branford, CT quarry the block was shipped to Rhode Island where it underwent intense x-ray testing at Castellucci Stone Works, where they inspected it to make sure the stone was solid and fissure-free, so that there would be no stress point weaknesses once the carving started. The Cambrian black onyx cinder base, about 4 billion years old, was mined in Pennsylvania, then sent for testing, and shipped to Barre. VT.
Unfamiliar with the properties of Stony Creek pink granite, Jim Sardonis was, at first, apprehensive about working with it. He had heard from other sculptors that certain angles could easily fracture the stone completely, so he started at the top of this sculpture, and he had me stay up in Vermont with him as he worked on this critical point. It wasn’t as “sharply pointed” as the scale model but we determined that it reached its structurally critical point.
Next came the raised fluted lines to basically capture a shadow to give the flame a more accentuated, flowing, upward motion. The unpolished, raw opening is the contrast to the solidity of the flame. Made to depict a teardrop or a drop of water, it physically depicts a direct emotional paradox experienced by all veterans and their families. Where the eternal flame represents everlasting light and hope there are many who suffer through memories of loss. Their pain and sorrow is an emotional drain that is just as everlasting as those who experience the sense of spiritual enlightenment that hope brings.
If you were to carefully observe the sculpture, you would notice that one side has a smaller opening than the other. Facing east, the opening is only 15-inches wide, while the opening on the western side is 20-inches. The smaller opening is intended to act as a viewing lens much like a lens of a telescope, while the wider aperture faces directly west. Before our Town Hall government decided to plant these obstructive, or perhaps destructive boxwoods, you were able to look through it, to see it frame the steeple of the Congregational Church, as well as the sunset in the western sky. This was purposely intended to be the interactive aspect of this monument for the schoolchildren that visited it.
The use of sculpture to track the path of the sun goes back to prehistoric times. Neolithic monuments predicting the behavior of the sun were a key part of evolution because they predicted that there will be a tomorrow, and a winter followed by summer. Which is also why the symbol of an eternal flame continues to be a symbol of much promise and hope.
Another major structural change, that was made while it was in production, was the straight sightline inside on the left side of the opening. The original design had a beveled edge on both sides of the opening, however after several of the Viet Nam veterans expressed concerns about their young child’s head getting “caught” within the opening I altered it to give it a smooth guiding sightline surface on one side of the through-hole.
The height of the pink stone is scaled to a human-sized six feet, and weighs 11,640 pounds, without its cinder bottom. The accentuating black charcoal onyx base representing the burning cinders of the flame is six ft in diameter and weighed a little over 4,000 lbs. The committee decided to have it polished to have a reflective quality to radiate the light from the flame above. The brick apron, which was intended to be an integral part of the original design was inexplicably removed by the Town of Cheshire to plant boxwoods. The bricks represented the top of a torch-light, symbolizing a torch similar to the one being used for the eternal flame at the John F. Kennedy memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery. For those of us who lived during that tumultuous time of the Kennedy assassination (I was 12 years old) we, as a nation, all shared some of the most emotionally stressful periods of our lives. As a matter of fact, during the entire production of the Cheshire Memorial Plaza the dignified simplicity of the Kennedy eternal flame memorial was continuously referenced by the Cheshire veterans. And we all remember John F. Kennedy’s words at his Inaugural Address “And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”
In the Committees’ presentation to Cheshire’s Town Council Dick Miller stated that it was “A tribute commemorating all who sacrificed their lives in the service of their nation and our Cheshire community, an eternal flame for veterans and their families to visit and cherish from their generation of veterans to all that will follow.”
The culmination of the Veteran’s Committee fundraiser was the Cheshire “All Star Revue”, held on April 7th 1990, and it featured many resident celebrities from Cheshire. The show was directed by Richard Conrad and Thomas Jones. Stage managers were Aleta Looker and Dorothy Brady. The show’s steering committee included Lee Pelz, Diane Danard, Ernest DiPietro, William Carr, Karen Conrad, Dick Conrad, Mary Grace Mangini, Joan Pilarczyk, Margaret Boutwell, Peter Soybel and, let’s not forget, Parks & Recreation Director Richard Bartlem who personally ran the “Grab Bag” program where everyone won something. There were over a thousand townspeople involved in this “All-Star” Extravaganza.
The evening began with the video slide presentation with photos of past and present veterans, provided by their families and friends, who served during war-time periods. Sadly, I returned all of the 35-mm slides back to the families so no visual or audio records exist of that presentation. Our master of ceremonies was newscaster Pat Sheehan. Other Cheshire celebrity presenters included Nancy Aborn of News 8, Chris Berman of ESPN, Candy Keefe of Channel 3, and Ex-Dallas Cowboy and NY Giant defensive back Beasley Reece who at time was the Sports Director at Channel 30.
The performers that evening included The Cheshire Community Band, Actors Brian Weber and his daughter Teri, Cheshire Acrobatics Training School, Broadway actor David Gress who appeared on Broadway in the “Sound of Music, Oliver, Camelot and West Side Story”. The Cheshire Woodwind Quartet, World renown Pianist Arei Ishibashi, Opera Soprano Priscilla Newcombe, Comedian and Gestalt Therapist Joyce Anisman-Saltman, Dancer Elaine Elkin, the Cheshire Community Theater, the rhythm & blues band “Blues Plate Special” featuring five veterans including Cheshire veteran “Mad Dog” Kline, Mr. Earl, Laid Back Barchie and D.W. Armstrong. A cast of All-Star performers, which included the talents of now Hollywood star James Van Der Beek, ended the show with a tribute to Walt Disney.
The monument was secretly delivered and carefully installed on a foggy and rainy morning, April 30th, 1990. It was immediately covered by a large wooden crate awaiting its unveiling on Memorial Day.
The Dedication ceremony took place on May 27, 1990 following a 90-minute parade through town. The introduction was made by Mayor Gilbert Leslie, Jr., followed by performances by Ray Mancinelli’s Cheshire High Marching Ram Band and a presentation of Colors by Veterans, Rene Gagnon, Ernie DiPietro, Fitch Guilford, Bill Connelly, Roy Johnson, Bob Morin, Joe Sabe, Wallace Jeddry, Bill McConnell and Marc Bojarski. Veteran John DeMello displayed an MIA flag that was brought from the State Department to Cheshire from Viet Nam. This was followed by a commemorative wreath that was placed by Hank Carson.
Amita Bhatta, Miss Cheshire 1990 sang “America the Beautiful” followed by a blessing and benediction of the monument by Rev. Daniel Sullivan of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church.
Various news sources released several interviews of veterans in attendance. Among the veterans who attended were two survivors of the attack on Iwo Jima who said that “without continuing community gatherings, these kinds of tributes and observances would fade with their generation.” Meriden WWII veterans Fred Somerset and Fred Tapley agreed by adding “Plus, we’re dying out fast.”
WWII Veteran John Jeffrey, a former prisoner of War captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge, was quoted by the local news “I hope that today people realize and appreciate what we have here in America because a lot of men paid the price for this with their lives.” Another veteran was quoted to have said, “This brings back a lot of memories of all the fellas I know who paid that price. I think this is a very fitting and impressive tribute”. Pat Murphy, Army Sgt who served in Viet Nam, added “This is a nice way to pay tribute to those of us who served”.
At the dedication ceremonies, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Marine Col. Harvey Curtiss Barnum Jr., who received his Medal of Honor for heroism under fire while serving in Viet Nam in 1967, told the estimated 1,000 people “They fought in sun-baked deserts, steamy jungles and frozen fields. Memorial Day is not a day to remember heroes but to remember ideals. Each day we enjoy the freedoms that so many Americans fought to defend. The future they believed in and to which they pledged their lives is ours today. We must realize that we cannot discharge our solemn obligation to these men with mere words. Our obligation, my friends, is to hand our heritage intact to future generations.”
Prayers and consecrations were also made at this site by Rev. George Engelhardt, of United Methodist Church, Rev. Daniel Sullivan of St. Bridgets, and the representative from Temple Beth David, Martin Cobern.
Before the ceremonial unveiling, taps sounded twice. Since the site was initiated to be an interactive site for the children of Cheshire’s veterans, the Committee selected five children of Cheshire veterans from the Town’s elementary schools – Doolittle’s representative was Brendan Mason, Chapman’s was Christopher Marks, Highland’s was Carrie Zello and Ryan Robinson, and Sarah Bundock from Norton School. Cherry Watkinson provided a covering shroud that the children pulled off of the sculpture to unveil the glistening monument.
A few weeks ago you may have read about my disappointment with the Town of Cheshire for what they did to this monument. On August 2, 1989, I personally received a contractual agreement with the Town which included the protective rights of this artwork under State of Connecticut Public Act no. 88-284. It was agreed to and signed by Cheshire’s Economic Development Coordinator, George Heston. The Town should not have altered this certified State of Connecticut, Historic Commission, designated site. The “Paradox” sculpture is also Cheshire’s only public artwork listed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute of American Art. Worst of all, our Town leaders decided to use our tax-payers’ dollars to undermine this site, even though the monument was paid for by the veterans and our townspeople not the Town government. The Town Hall also violated its own Cheshire Historic Commission’s historic preservation regulation No. 5.2.1c. . For the veterans living in Cheshire, it is up to you to contact Members of our Town Government to hold them accountable, and to restore and preserve what is rightfully yours. Mark Twain said it best, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
In my concluding remarks, I would be remiss not to mention our more recent veterans who voluntarily gave up their everyday lives to serve our nation.
Most of the visionary veterans that I worked with on this monument are no longer with us. It is therefore my responsibility to tell you that they intended this Plaza as a tribute to you, a place for you and your families to gather, and for you to recall all those that served before you and with you, and for you, to be remembered by generations of veterans that will follow you.
When Richard Miller and I learned that this pink granite was about 600 millions old, and the onyx about 4 billion years old, we figured it’s pretty close to being a truly timeless tribute. And the theme of an eternal flame and the veneration of the sun parallel’s human evolution for 600,000 years, so it is a pretty safe bet that you share the same emotional response to this tributary symbol without needing my explanation. Personally, I’ve met with hundreds of veterans since this project began. And, I’ve also had family members who’ve been deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan to provide personal assistance to General Petraeus; jumped with the 101st Airborne into the mountains of Kabul; graduated from Annapolis and hunted pirates in the treacherous waters off Somalia; searched for Al Qaeda in Africa; and a niece that was bitten in the arm by an Islamic terrorist while on Navy guard duty in Guantanamo. The common bond between them all was how proud they were to serve their country, and the love, friendship, and the impeccable trust they had with the men and women that served with them.
This monumental tribute also applies to those who lost their enlightened vision of hope despite coming to a place we identify as home. To quote WWII General Douglas MacArthur “some of the soldiers that returned suffered the deepest wounds.” Those prophetic words transcended time because till this day those that suffer from the stresses of war often can’t escape it, even at home, with their family and friends. No matter how many tributes we build or what honors we bestow upon them, too many have lost a reality of presence, living in a mindset of futility. I will end my address by reading you a few words written by Marine Lt. Col. Robert Marshall for the Marine Corp Times on June 8, 2014. The Letter was entitled “A Casualty of War” He wrote “It was a woman’s voice describing the emotional turmoil, the detachment, the guilt; the first female service-member I had met with combat-arms PTSD. And it had a severe impact upon this young warrior. I do not fully remember the outburst of rage. But the pain in my foot, marks to my desk, and scattered papers confirmed the anger when I read the email regarding Master of Arms Class 2 Mattei’s death. This death, however, would not show up as a war casualty. And it would not show up as another veteran suicide. It was “accidental.”
He wrote about my brother’s stepdaughter, our niece, who died from a drug overdose near Bradley Airport on September 24, 2013. It was her uncontrollable response to a futile attempt to go back to Afghanistan to help out the military brothers she left behind. I’m afraid that too many of our warriors will face a similar resolution to their anguish and no matter how many veteran’s day tributes we celebrate, or how many therapists these soldiers see, or how many pills, or service puppies they get, the veterans that return from duty need a lot more understanding to help them find themselves. Unfortunately I’ve also met several returning warriors who’ve been wrongfully stigmatized with the belief that seeking help is a sign of weakness. And there will be no help for them. They go to battle to save and preserve our lifestyles but many come back losing their own.
I will leave you with a quote from Aristotle who wrote, “We give up leisure in order that we may have leisure, just as we go to war in order that we may have peace.” Although he wrote this 2,367 years ago, such is this, the “paradox” of life.
Thank you all, and I hope this Plaza is as spiritually inspiring to you as it was to those who preceded you.