Westport salutes veterans in Town Hall ceremony
Updated 7:16 am, Saturday, November 12, 2011
"This day is for the ones who aren't here," said Chalfant, who served as a corporal in the Third Armored Division during the Allied invasion of Europe. "We're here to represent the ones who died on the battlefield. We've been doing this for a long time."
Along with dozens of other local veterans, Chalfant commemorated Veterans Day in a ceremony held in Town Hall. The service featured an intergenerational audience that paid homage to veterans who had served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I pray that school systems throughout our country will foster in the minds of young people the importance of those who served and that they be honored and respected," said the Rev. Paul Teske of St. Paul Lutheran Church. "May that generation rise up and never forget the price paid to allow freedoms that they will enjoy today."
Heeding Teske's call, Staples High School senior Taylor McNair delivered the ceremony's keynote address. He discussed his work as a volunteer for the Kick for Nick Foundation, a Wilton-based nonprofit that collects soccer balls for U.S. troops to deliver to Iraqi children.
"Veterans Day is more than recognizing the sacrifices that a soldier must make," McNair said. "It's about recognizing the impact that his sacrifices will have. Nick Madaras sought to make his impact through the fundamental lesson of sharing."
Madaras was an army private who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2006. During his last stateside visit before his death, he gathered soccer balls that he intended to distribute to children near his post in Iraq.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff also acknowledged the sacrifices of young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"These are young men who are suffering psychological disorders, suffering from injuries by roadside bombs, and psychological trauma that will last for years," he said. "I think it behooves all of us to welcome them home, not just on Veterans Day, but every day."
More than 60 years after he served as a navigator in the Allies' Royal Netherlands Air Force in the Pacific theater in World War II, Ed Van Gelder said Veterans Day still resonates as a significant commemoration.
"It's a very special day," he said. "I think about those who served and those who gave their lives. I'm glad we remember them."
After the war ended, Van Gelder flew Allied prisoners of war from Japanese internment camps to Australia.
Alan Stolz, who was a sergeant at the Fifth Army's headquarters in Fort Sheridan, Ill., during the late 1950s remarked that public perception of veterans had improved markedly since the Vietnam War era.
"I'm glad that the youngsters today are aware of what's going on," he said. "There's no more name calling and throwing rocks at guys on the street corner. It's a whole turnaround. It's a matter of taking pride in American history."