Way Back When: A historic tradition of honoring veterans
On April 11, 1918, the Great War — now called World War I — touched Westport directly. On that day, Charles August Matthias of Greens Farms was the first Westporter killed in action. He was a member of the 102nd Infantry’s 51st Brigade, 26th Division, American Expeditionary Forces in France.
When the war ended later that year on Nov. 11, over 175 Westporters including eight female nurses had given their lives during their military service. The date began to be commemorated annually on Nov. 11 as early as 1919 and was called Armistice Day.
Now known as Veterans Day, this federal holiday honors service of all military personnel since the Great War. Here in Westport, veterans visit local schools to recount the story of their service in a moving tradition that brings to life the ultimate sacrifices made by these brave men and women.
Those who wish to see the honor roll of those who served and died during World War I and after should visit Veterans Green, across from Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue and next door to Westport Museum. At the end of the park stands a statue made by local artist J. Clinton Shepherd titled “The Doughboy,” a common nickname for American soldiers during World War I. Veterans of other wars are memorialized on bronze placards around the statue which originally stood on the Post Road at the time it was erected in 1930.
The toll of war and the lives of American servicemen abroad is one of the themes of our current exhibit Vision & Dignity The Art of George Hand Wright, which is free to the public until Nov. 17. During the week of Nov. 11, the museum’s Instagram feed @westporthistorymuseum will feature artifacts relating to Westporters’ military service.
For more information visit westporthistory.org. Westport Museum for History & Culture has been a cultural and educational organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport since its founding in 1889.