Westport vets, supporters heed call to salute Veterans Day
Published 9:02 am, Friday, November 12, 2010
More than 60 years after he flew his last mission, Don Snook can still recount his daring raids over Europe during World War II.
"We flew B-17 Fortresses. They had four engines and eight guns -- you could bring a lot of force to bear with those," he remembered.
Snook, 87, who served in the 306th Bomb Group, ran missions in 1945 out of RAF Thurleigh, a Royal Air Force base located about 60 miles north of London. Serving during the final stages of the war, his missions targeted German rail yards, air drones and submarine pens. German forces were substantially weakened at this point, but his sorties were still fraught with risk, especially from anti-aircraft fire.
"I never got shot down, but I got hit a couple of times. I lost a couple of engines, and oil would be streaming out," said Snook, who reached the rank of first-class lieutenant. "When that happened, I'd have to rush back and land at the nearest base to the English Channel."
But memories of his service are not what prompted Snook to attend Veterans Day ceremonies Thursday at Town Hall. Rather, it was the contributions and sacrifices of fellow veterans.
"I like to be on hand to commemorate and remember," he said.
Scores of local veterans and town residents joined Snook in heeding the call to honor veterans of all wars. Several generations of former service members attended the Town Hall ceremony -- including veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Although those wars ended decades ago, Thursday's commemorations evoked vivid memories among the veterans in attendance.
"It's like Faulkner said, `The past is never dead. It's not even past,'" said John Mihalec, who was a grade-five specialist in the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion during the Vietnam conflict.
"All the memories come back today," said Junior Bieling, a first-class sergeant during the Korean War.
Among those recollections, though, were the somber remembrance of those who did not return home.
"I think about those guys that were once here and now they ain't here anymore," said Frank Ambrose, who also served as a grade-five specialist in the same battalion as Mihalec in Vietnam.
The Rev. Paul Teske, who served in the Navy, delivered the ceremony's invocation. Having recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom, he said the British provide a fitting example of how to honor veterans.
"I was impressed that they wear their poppies over there for a month," he said of the British practice of wearing poppy flowers in remembrance of past wars. "We need to be mindful, not only of those that served, but of the great price that was paid."
In addition to veterans' contributions, the Thursday program also provided the opportunity to acknowledge the legions of individuals outside of the armed forces who have supported troops through the years. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example, supports and raises money for a number of veterans' charities.
"I think the most important things that women have offered to veterans are support and understanding," said Sue Henry of Westport's Post 399 of the Ladies Auxiliary.
And members of America's military forces arrive home every day to add to the nation's honor roll of veterans. To loud applause, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff announced that two members of the Westport Fire Department, Lt. Thomas Richmond and Firefighter Nick Marsan, had just returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.
After the ceremony, Snook further reflected on the emotions conjured up by Veterans Day. "I'm thankful that I made it back safely," he said. "It feels good to be able to honor and remember."