On Saturday, Greenwich veterans and their families and friends participated in the annual walk down Greenwich Avenue to the World War I monument for a Veterans Day ceremony.
Commander of Greenwich American Legion Peter LeBeau noted that Veterans Day 2023 marked the 104th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice to signal the end of World War I, Friday was the 248th birthday of the US Marine Corps, and, this year is the official 50th anniversary of the end of the US military presence in Vietnam.
Mr. LeBeau recognized Sal DeAngelo, a Greenwich resident and World War II veteran, who at the age of 100, attended the event with his children Dina, Don and Bob.
“Today I address you, not only as Commander of the Greenwich American Legion, but as one of the tens of millions of American men and women, who since our nation’s founding almost 250 years ago placed their dreams and aspirations on hold in order to serve our country in time of war,” LeBeau said.
“Since 1919 America has been engaged in many conflicts around the globe. We have done so not only to protect our beloved country from foreign aggression, but to liberate tens of millions of people from oppressive, genocidal maniacs,” LeBeau continued.
“And while today we are not directly involved in a hot war, we are most certainly supporting proxy wars in both Ukraine and Gaza,” LeBeau said. “And since Iran-backed, bloodthirsty Hamas terrorists invaded a staunch ally – Israel – over a month ago, US bases in Syria and Iraq have been rocketed over two dozen times, with our forces suffering over 40 casualties – no fatalities, fortunately.”
“Make no mistake, the situation in the Middle East and Ukraine remain highly volatile, and we may find it necessary to commit boots on the ground in the not-too-distant future.”
“More ominously, the threat of thermonuclear war looms greater and greater as hostilities continue to escalate,” he added.
First Selectman Fred Camillo said Veterans Day, along with Memorial Day and July 4, were the three most significant American observances.
“They are significant because everything we enjoy today is because of the men and woman here today and all around the world who have served the United States,” Camillo continued. “Every day we need to reflect on what they did, remember what they did and respect what they did.”
Featured speaker was Ed Vick, a former Lieutenant in the US Navy who served two tours in Vietnam in a Patrol Boat, Riverine “PBR,” possibly most hazardous duty in Vietnam.
Vick led over 100 combat missions on the rivers of the Mekong Delta.
The theme of Mr. Vick’s talk was the “residue,” or indelible marks on his life from following his service in Vietnam.
“Every life experience leaves a residue, or to put it more bluntly, leaves a mark. It’s what’s left after the incident is over. These various marks all rolled together make us who we are. In my life, the experiences that most left a mark on me came from Vietnam.”
Vick described the night of Jan 16, 1969, when he was a Junior Grade Lieutenant commanding a small 34 ft fiberglass patrol boat speeding up the river in the darkness. He said it had been too dark to see the twists and turns of the river. The boat was steered by watching its radar image. In the moment, it was too dangerous to slow down.
“A mangrove covered the river’s edge,” he said. “Everything was dark as hell when suddenly out of the treeline a fusillade of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and machine guns erupted.”
“Suddenly the boat shook and we immediately lost speed. A rocket had struck below our water line and had exploded upward, blowing deck plates and one of our sailors into the air. We immediately began to sink. And the fire kept coming.”
“We got out of that fix thanks to bravery of some sailors and some good luck,” Vick recalled.
Vick explained that PBRs operated in pairs while conducting patrols and he recalled using the radio to contact their cover boat to come alongside and get his men off.
He said they cleared the area and immediately made a u-turn back through the area to drive off the Viet Cong and protect their sunken boat.
“We managed to escape that ambush with nothing but a few scrapes and bruises,” he said. “That was my very first firefight in Vietnam and it left a mark on me. Every life changing event leaves a residue, leaves a mark. Those are the events that largely make us who we are.”
“In my case, through all the events that shaped my life, I have to say I am most proud of my service to my country,” Vick said, going on to joke that he used to have a bumper-sticker on his car that said, ‘Vietnam – We were winning when I left.’
Vick said more than any other event in his life, his service in Vietnam shaped who he became as an adult, giving him a perspective on life, including the difference between a crisis and a problem.
“It also taught me the true meaning of caring for my fellow workers, my fellow sailors,” he said. “There was nowhere to hide. Team work is everything. It taught me pride. For my entire life I have been proud to have served my country in the Navy’s River Patrol.”
“The River Rats we were called,” he added. “I taught me to truly love that piece of cloth up there,” he said point to the American flag.
“At a memorial such as this, or even at a baseball game, when the anthem plays and the flag is presented, there are tears in my eyes. And, finally, it brought new meaning to the term ‘Love of country.’ I now have an intense love of country. I feel like I fought for her and it left an indelible mark on me.”
“I don’t mean this to be a political statement, but maybe Commodore Stephen Decatur expressed his love of country this way in the early 19th century: My country, right or wrong.”
Greenwich Police Dept Chief Jim Heavey said 2023 marked was the 13th year of the community walk down Greenwich Avenue, but veterans ceremonies had been conducted in the same spot outside the historic post office since the end of World War I.
“I’m humbled to share the distinction of being a veteran myself, but I have grown up in the shadow here in Greenwich of so many real life heroes,” he said. “Greenwich has sent Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coasties to every major combat operation since the Revolutionary War.”
Heavey shared the story of Nicholas Fox, a young Irish immigrant, who was only 19 when he enlisted to serve in the Civil War.
Private Fox was recognized with the Medal of Honor on June 14, 1863 and became the only Greenwich resident to receive that distinction.
“In the searing heat of the mid-June Louisiana day in 1863 , as wounded comrades cried out in agony, this young Greenwich man, twice ran across open fields, dodging Confederate fire to retrieve water and render aid to these other soldiers.”
Private Fox was part of Company H with many other Greenwich residents. Heavey said that by 1890 Fox and his wife Catherine Simcox had resettled into Port Chester, where they had 12 children. He became the superintendent of RB&W Bolt Works and was a lifelong volunteer with the Putnam Engine & Hose Company in the Port Chester Fire Dept.
Heavey went onto highlight some other veterans from Greenwich, including Burton Sklar, who served his country in World War II and in Korea and was awarded a purple heart.
Heavey said Sklar was a German Jew who could have received an exemption from serving in WWII because his family owned a surgical company. Instead he volunteered for service in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Sklar would return to Greenwich and for many years was a volunteer firefighter in Byram and a local Boy Scout commissioner.
Heavey said Joe Manka, a longtime town employee and volunteer fire chief, had been a young man when he stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to witness the surrender of Japanese forces in Tokyo Bay.
Heavey recalled that Chuck Standard received the Navy Cross in world War II as a Navy Pilot and returned to Greenwich to promote the awareness of youth and patriotic duties, including starting a ceremony at Riverside School Veterans Day to recognize the seven alumni of that school who were lost in battle.
Also, Heavey remembered the late Erf Porter who had been a peacetime Airborne Artillery officer serving in Germany. Mr. Porter returned to Greenwich to promote patriotism to local youth by supporting the American Legion Boys State and Girls State for over 30 years.
Vin Masi, a World War II and Korean War veteran supported many local veteran causes, including leading the marking of veterans graves in Greenwich for many years.
Lastly, Heavey recalled how Malcolm Pray, a US Air Force veteran, deployed his fleet of convertible cars for transporting veterans at parades.
Heavey said there were many veterans who choose to “blend in” and not highlight their military services.
“I would like to ask you, to challenge you to return to service and not hide the fact that you were part of history. It’s important for you to share that with our next generation,” Heavey said, going on to encourage more veterans to take active roles in local veterans organizations, including the American Legion Post 29, the Byram Veterans Association, the 9th District Veterans Association, and the VFW Post in Cos Cob.
The Police Chief said he was proud that 22% of sworn officers of the Greenwich Police Dept were veterans representing every branch of service.
He noted that Greenwich High School sends many graduates to the various service academies and into the enlisted ranks to serve the country.
“I believe this patriotic spirit sometimes gets overlooked and is not as appreciated as it should be,” Heavey said. “All the schools in town are providing our future.”