Chester, Deep River, Essex Veterans Pay Special Tributes on Memorial Day
Veteran Bruce Watrous watches as American Legion Post #97 Adjutant Jane Deuse Cable Jane Deuse Cable lays a wreath at the Chester Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
John Winthrop Middle School student Morgan Toth sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Chester Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Chester Fife and Drum Corps performed at the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall in Centerbrook on May 25. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Despite restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local veterans from Chester, Deep River, and Essex honored fallen military service men and women this Memorial Day with small, yet heartwarming tributes.
United States Army veteran Jerry LaMark, commander of Chester’s American Legion Post #97, said the day is too important to go unrecognized in Chester.
“The day for us veterans is a very sacred day because we take into account all of our fallen comrades,” said LaMark, who is also founder of the Chester War Memorial Committee. “For some of us, it’s a very moving day and it means a lot to us. Therefore, whenever the day comes up here in Chester, we do something. We just can’t let the day go by.”
On May 25, American Legion Post #97 held a Memorial Day Ceremony at Chester Memorial Park, located at the intersection of Route 154 and Railroad Avenue. Granite markers at the park list the names of Chester residents who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and post-Vietnam conflicts.
Veteran Bruce Watrous, who has been parade marshal for the past 50 years, officiated the activities with Post #97 Adjutant Jane Deuse Cable laying the wreath and LaMark leading the firing squad, honor guard, and veterans to the memorial.
John Winthrop Middle School student Morgan Toth sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and members of the Chester Fife and Drum Corps provided musical interludes.
Reverend Peter Arul Rajan of St. Joseph’s Church in Chester, Rabbi Marci Bellows of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, and Reverend W. Alan Froggatt of the United Church of Chester all gave invocations at the ceremony.
First Selectman Lauren Gister and State Senator Norman Needleman (D-33) attended the ceremony, along with a small gathering of veterans, family members, and others who wore face masks and adhered to social distancing protocol.
“With the virus, we were surprised to see the people that showed,” said LaMark. “To me, it’s important because every year I see my family standing there who is very supportive.”
Art Christianson, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and is an active member with Post #97, had several family members in attendance.
“It was important for us to support our father and grandfather and a good way to honor the holiday,” said Bonnie Brenneman, an Essex resident, who attended with her three daughters, Ragan, Annie and Ella. “It was nice to see people out responsibly wearing masks. I was very impressed.”
After the ceremony, a parade of fire trucks and antique vehicles, driven by veterans and first responders, wound through town, led by Chester’s resident state trooper and the Chester Hose Company. Fire Chief James Grzybowski organized the parade route.
“We were all very happy that we were able to have a small ceremony and the parade that the Fire Department sponsored around town, that was really great,” said Watrous. “You rode through town and there were families out in front of their houses, people came to the end of their streets cheering and clapping, waving flags, little flags, big flags. They were happy to see us, and we were really happy to see them.”
Cable said the parade was a positive reminder for many residents of the importance of the holiday.
“We just don’t want people to forget,” said Cable. “It’s that simple and after yesterday’s parade, Chester is not going to forget for a long time, which is good.”
In Essex, a small ceremony, officiated by Norman Rutty, took place at the Essex Veterans Memorial in Centerbrook. Immediately following the tribute, the Chester Fife and Drum Corps performed several patriotic tunes in the parking area of the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall.
“This is a very special day,” said Art Davies, president of the Essex Vets Club on May 25. “This is a day when we want to reflect on old friends, people who are no longer with us and that’s exactly what we did here today.”
This year, as a tribute to veterans, the club, along with the Essex Boy Scout Troop No. 12, helped place approximately 720 American flags at the gravestones of veterans at Centerbook, Riverview, and Prospect Hill cemeteries.
In Deep River, the town canceled all public events for Memorial Day at the request of American Legion Post #61 Commander Eileen Richard.
“We didn’t want to take any risks,” said Richard by telephone on May 27. “We have wonderful, loyal people who support the veterans in Deep River. I didn’t want people to get exposed and I didn’t know how to anticipate what might happen.”
Although the public events were canceled, Richard says members of Post #61 were able to carry on some of the town’s time-honored traditions to commemorate the holiday.
On May 24, four members of Post #61 along with members of the Winthrop Cemetery Board held an outdoor ceremony at the Winthrop Baptist Church, which has held a service for veterans for the past 160 years.
Other activities on May 25 included a wreath laying in front of a World War I memorial at Deep River Elementary School and a wreath laying and white rose ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Green in Deep River to memorialize 15 fallen World War II servicemen.
The ceremonies served to reflect on the sacrifices made by servicemen and women from past conflicts and the loss of nine local veterans this year, who served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam conflicts.
“We wanted to remember them respectfully,” said Richard. “They are truly missed.”