'We are here to remember those who fought': Westporters gather for Veterans Day ceremony

WESTPORT — For Joe Schachter, the uniform veterans have worn throughout time symbolizes a unifying pillar of the country — democracy.

“We don’t have enough things that create our pride and acceptance of what democracy does for us,” Schachter, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, said. “To see that uniform, to see the posting of colors, to see at a funeral the flag-draped coffin and then that flag be presented to the widow is something that will turn a child on or be memorable and give them a point of view that’s different.”

Schachter served in World War II as a Navy ensign in the Pacific. He recalled growing up in Norwalk at 15 and finding his mother crying after the country learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I realized she was crying about her brother who 22 years earlier had came home a broken man because of being gassed in the fields of France in World War I,” he said.

Tears streamed down her face because she realized at the same time both Schachter and his younger brother would likely be called into the armed forces, he said, and they soon were.

“Three years of any activity will change a person, but three years of the military life makes major changes,” Schachter said. “You grow up in that time. I went in as a young kid and I came out as a young man — a true man.”

Schachter joined other veterans, residents and town officials at VFW Post 399 as part of a service to commemorate Veterans Day.

First Selectman Jim Marpe gave a brief speech to honor veterans, highlighting how the country faced the Spanish Flu pandemic at the end of World War I, a little over 100 years ago. Now, years later new soldiers have been called upon amid a new pandemic — COVID-19.

“So, we find ourselves here today, 100 years later, at the VFW of Westport, founded in 1920 and named after Joseph Clinton — a World War I Westport soldier who was killed in France just four days before the Armistice,” Marpe said. “We are here to remember those who fought for and gave service to their country — then and now.”

Staples High School senior Henry Beck said his grandfather fought in the Korean War, and while they never discussed his service, he was always curious. This curiosity laid the foundation for his hope to give back for the freedoms he enjoys today thanks to the sacrifice of veterans, he said.

“I hope to have the chance to join the most important team on the planet — the U.S. military,” Beck said.

He said whether it’s at West Point or in ROTC programs he is compelled to give back and pay it forward.

“I want to give back for all the freedoms I enjoy today, and I want to pay it forward so the kids in elementary school who have dreams have the same chances I did,” Beck said.

But donning the uniform will not only pay it forward, it will continue to honor one of America’s founding principles, Schachter said.

“The uniform to my mind is a critical part of this democracy,” he said. “It’s great that we can continue to celebrate it and that this organization continues to do that in the way that it does.”