Politicized Veterans Day Speeches Spark Reactions in Greenwich

The annual Veterans Day Patriotic Walk benefited from balmy temps and sunny skies, ideal to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces.

The walk culminated in a ceremony at the World War I monument at the former Post Office, hosted by the American Legion Post 29.

Featured speakers included First Selectman Fred Camillo, who talked about recognizing men and women who stopped whatever they were doing to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Among the attendees at the American Legion ceremony by the World War I monument on Greenwich Ave was newly elected town clerk Jackie Budkins, Selectwoman-elect Janet Stone McGuigan, BET member Beth Krumeich and BET member Laura Erickson. Nov 11, 2021. Photo: Leslie Yager

“They left behind the lives they were living. And they did so, not because they were fueled by hate, because they were fueled by love: love of country, love of family, love of friends, love of neighbors and love of our history,” Camillo said.

Peter LeBeau, commander of the Greenwich American Legion, said, “Our sacrifice has been great, as roughly 1.5 million brave Americans willingly gave, as Abraham Lincoln once put it, ‘that last full measure of devotion in order to preserve freedom.’ What we did was noble, righteous and just.”

“But now, things seem to have changed,” LeBeau added.

LeBeau, who served as a combat soldier in Vietnam, said, “Regrettably we did not win that war, divisive and controversial as it was, but we made certain, as we always have, that all American citizens in that country were brought home safely. That has not been the case with Afghanistan, when earlier this year, we beat a hasty and poorly planned retreat, abandoning hundreds of American citizens, thus placing their fate in the hands of ruthless, bloodthirsty and murderous Taliban. Nothing meaningful is being done to rescue them.”

“Our nation is in trouble, but we can turn that around if we raise our voices in righteous indignation, put America’s interests first again, and restore our country to its rightful place as that shining city on the hill and the world’s brightest beacon for freedom and democracy,” he said.

Alan Clair, Colonel, US Air Force (Ret.) delivered the keynote speech at the Veterans Day ceremony organized by the American Legion. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
American Legion commander Peter LeBeau turned the podium over to retired COL Alan Clair. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

LeBeau introduced keynote speaker Alan Clair, Colonel, US Air Force (Ret.), noting he had served 21 months in Vietnam as a Navigator on C-130 Hercules Aircraft and was on duty for five years, followed by 28 years in the Air Force Reserve.

COL Clair talked about three historic missions, starting with “Black Sunday,” when during World War II, 128 B-24 bombers were sent on a low-altitude bombing mission to concentrate on refineries in the Romanian city of Ploesti, where they were met with intense flak. He said the US lost 54 B-24’s in one mission, and explained that the crew on a B-24 was usually 10 men. “We lost 500 men – 310 killed and 186 became prisoners of war.”

The second mission he described took place on June 6, 1944. On D-Day 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50 mile coast Normandy, France.

He said on July 30, 1945, in the South Pacific, the American Destroyer USS Indianapolis delivered a huge wooden box containing an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy,” which was dropped on Hiroshima.

Clair said, afterward, the USS Indianapolis was speeding on its return to San Francisco when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine. He said the captain ordered everyone to abandon ship, and out of 1,196 men, 900 went into the water.

“Three days went by before the Navy realized the ship had gone down. All during that time these 900 men were circled by sharks who picked them off one by one. When the last survivor was pulled from the water on the fifth day, only 314 of the 900 remained. Of those 314, four subsequently died in hospital. It was the largest loss of life ever in the US Navy,” COL Clair said.

“Let me come more currently – on August 26th of this year, special operations soldiers were guarding Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. They were killed by a suicide bomber. Not known is there were an additional 18 military service members and many more Afghans who were wounded in that attack.”

COL Clair talked about the moment a soldier thinks is his last, and the sensation of “my whole life flashed before me.”

With his examples of sacrifice through history in mind, he asked for a show of hands after a series of questions.

“How many of you think that these men prayed to God in some form? Raise your hands. How many think they were thinking about their parents, wives, their husbands, their sweethearts? How many of you think they were thinking about their children? Do you think they were thinking about our wonderful country and what it stands for?” he asked, nodding in approval as attendees raised their hands.

“How many of you think they were thinking about how wonderful it would be if we had looting and rioting in our major cities? Can we see the hands? How about defunding our police departments? I don’t think so. Do you think they were thinking about our open borders, and allowing anyone who wants to come into our country just to walk across the border? If their thoughts were focused on Critical Race Theory in our schools or our curriculum in schools that teach that our country was founded on slavery and not on liberty and justice for all?”

“Surely they are rolling over in their graves at our current state of affairs while asking, ‘Is this what I sacrificed my time and my blood for? Let our voices be heard, lest we lose our right of free speech,'” Clair said.

COL Clair asked attendees to “turn up the heat” and call their Congressmen and US Senators Murphy and Blumenthal.

Further, he said, “Attend your local school board meetings, take an active interest in the policies of the colleges and universities, not only that your children attend, but that you attended. If you disagree with something, make your voice heard.”

Following speeches, First Selectman Fred Camillo and COL Clair played a wreath at the World War I monument. Nov 11, 2021. Photo: Leslie Yager
Liz Eckert at the patriotic walk on Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

After the ceremony, some attendees expressed dismay over LeBeau’s and Clair’s remarks.

Selectwoman-elect Janet Stone McGuigan explained that she had attended the patriotic walk carrying a photo of her father and uncle, identical twins, who served in the Navy during World War II and later in the Army Corps of Engineers. She also carried a photo of her great-great grandfather, who with his younger brother, fought for the Union at Gettysburg.

“When I was younger, I naturally thought of them on Veterans Day, since the stories of their service were ones I knew. Now that I am of a certain age, I think of their mothers. These boys were their only children. What would I have done, in their place, to have worked for peace to keep my children out of harm’s way?” she wondered.

“A thought that came to me as I was listening to the speeches, was how many of the young people who served this country in wartime would have been grateful if, instead of taking up arms, were asked to wear a mask and be vaccinated as their contribution to saving the world?” she added.

Patricia Baiardi of Byram said her father, a veteran of World War II, was a paratrooper in the 87th Airborne Glider Division. Her uncle Charles Hubert was also a veteran. He was in the Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, and served honorably until the end of the war.

“My husband (Joe Kantorski) was a medic in a MASH Unit, the 31st surgical mobile hospital, during the Vietnam War,” she added. “Feeling very proud of my father and husband who are veterans, I attended the ceremonies on Greenwich Ave to honor all veterans, only to hear keynote speaker Alan Clair and American Legion commander LeBeau make the ceremony into a right wing political rally.”

“I am extremely upset by their speeches and hope the next ceremony to honor veterans will be a ceremony to honor veterans,” she added.

State Rep Meskers (D-150) said he too was disappointed by the nature of the speeches.

“Our veterans, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, worked to defend our democracy,” Meskers said. “The veterans memorial service is in honor of them. It is not a political platform for either of the two major political parties. We stand together united in respectful observance of those who served our country, with honor and distinction. And those in uniform have a particular responsibility to uphold their code of honor and not engage in political discourse. I was very disappointed. This was neither the time, nor the venue.”

Beth Krumeich said she was shocked and dismayed by what she described as a “partisan diatribe” delivered by Commander LeBeau and Retired COL Clair.

“I look forward and participate in this event every year to honor my late father who was an Army surgeon in the Pacific Theater during WWII,” she said. “I expected the speeches to be a patriotic expression of gratitude to our service men and women. Instead these gentlemen spewed right-wing talking points as if they were at a T**** Rally rather than a solemn ceremony to honor our veterans. They should be ashamed.”

Erf Porter and members of the Retired Men’s Association participated in the Patriotic Walk on Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
State Rep Kimberly Fiorello participated in the Patriotic Walk down Greenwich Ave on Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
David Wold of the Byram Veterans distributed poppies before the Patriotic Walk on Greenwich Avenue. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Participants in the Patriotic Walk for Veterans Day included veterans and family of those who served, Greenwich Police, Police Honor Guard, bagpipe player Captain James Bonney, Retired Men’s Association, Byram Veterans, Byram Veterans Honor Guard and members of the American Legion. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Republican BET member Bill Drake, and members-elect Nisha Arora and Dan Ozizmir at the Patriotic Walk on Greenwich Ave for Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich motorcycle police led the patriotic walk down Greenwich Avenue. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Byram Veterans honor guard. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
People honored loved ones during the Patriotic Walk on Veterans Day, Nov 11, 2021. Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich Police participated in the Patriotic Walk on Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich Police participated in the Patriotic Walk on Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich Police participated in the Patriotic Walk on Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Elected officials participated in the Patriotic Walk on Veterans Day. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich Police Honor Guard were a presence at the ceremony following the Patriotic Walk on Greenwich Avenue. Nov 11, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager