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History buff and Navy veteran Joe Diedrich stays engaged in the community through the American Legion Post 66, VFW, and the Sailing Masters of 1812, out of Essex, for which he’s dressed here. (Photo courtesy of Joe Diedrich )
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Joe Diedrich had recently left the Navy after a lengthy career, and was missing the companionship of his fellow sailors. So he decided to attend a local Memorial Day parade, and then an idea struck him.
“I enjoyed it and I decided wanted to get involved in that,” Joe says.
That parade nearly 25 years ago inspired Joe to become an active member with the American Legion Post 66 in Clinton.
The American Legion is a national organization that provides assistance for veteran and military personnel and that sponsors events for their local communities. Joining the post was a perfect opportunity for someone like Joe, who missed interacting with his peers.
“I missed being with military people and veterans, the camaraderie of people who had been there and done that,” Joe says of his decision to join the post.
At the post Joe helps pitch in with any project that is in the works.
“It’s more a ‘What can I do to help?’ thing,” he explains.
As for his biggest project: “I’m the one who organizes the Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades and ceremonies,” Joe says.
Joe has helped organize the parade for 20 years, and in that time, he’s seen some growth—Joe’s estimates that all together there are about 500 people who march in the parade.
Joe starts planning for the parade in January each year, and does tasks such as coordinating flyovers, scheduling marching units, and, most important, “getting as many veterans out there as possible.”
When it comes to organizing, “I don’t look for quantity, I look for quality,” Joe says.
As an example, sometimes someone will pitch an idea that may sound fun, but isn’t totally appropriate for a memorial celebration. Joe says he likes to keep the parade as Clinton-centric as possible, and tries to include groups from the town help make the parade special for the residents.
This year, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the 2020 Memorial Day Parade has been canceled.
“It’s disappointing, Memorial Day is really the day to get them out and get them 15 minutes of fame,” Joe says of the veterans who march. “It’s a great recognition they deserve it.”
But Joe says the parade will return in 2021, and that he’s looking forward to organizing it.
“I get the greatest satisfaction, when it goes off and goes well and they get their 15 minutes of fame that they earned,” Joe says.
He also coordinates the Veterans Day ceremonies in the fall. That celebration includes ceremonies at all the schools in Clinton, including the one at The Morgan School, which is open to the public.
The event features performances by The Morgan School Band and Chorus as well as a reading of the names of every Clinton veteran who died in war. Then the veterans in attendance are recognized.
“They treat us fantastically at the schools,” Joe says.
In addition to his work with the American Legion Post, Joe is active with the The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
“When they need support for their actions, I look to see how I can help,” says Joe.
He helps with various fundraisers to support projects.
“We do a lot of individual work, too, like if there’s a veteran that needs a new ramp built to make their house accessible, things like that,” Joe says.
Joe was in the Navy on active duty for 11 years and in the reserves for 21 years. For Joe it was an early fascination with submarines that led him to a military career.
“I just grew up a history buff, reading about World War II and the subs. I just followed that interest into the service,” says Joe.
“I’m still a history buff, too, I collect military antiques,” he notes.
Even Joe’s recreational pursuits have a military history theme to them. Joe is a member of the color guard of the Sailing Masters of 1812, an ancient fife and drum corps based in Essex. As part of the group, Joe dresses in a military uniform and plays music that would have been popular in that time period. The group participates in Fourth of July parades, town anniversaries, and other town-based celebrations.
Joe grew up in Michigan and ended up in Connecticut after getting stationed at a base in Groton. Eventually Joe settled in Clinton, but he has since moved to Madison. However, that short move didn’t stop him from staying involved in organizations in Clinton.
“I enjoyed working with them, so I stayed,” he says. “I saw no reason to change posts just because I moved five miles down the road.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide
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