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Honoring Veterans

Immigrant Who Served With Patton Calls U.S. `Wonderful Country'

November 6, 2006
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN, Courant Staff Writer

Bill Linden was born in Germany 93 years ago and fled the country as a young man to get out of military service. But he wasn't exactly a draft dodger.

"Hitler wanted me to go in the German army," Linden said Sunday. "I told him to go take a flying leap."

Linden ended up in America before the start of World War II, and later served under Gen. George S. Patton, assigned to the 3rd Army until a piece of shrapnel became his ticket home after three years in the service.

More than 60 years later, Linden was again in military dress, staking out a spot beneath the statue of Nathan Hale on Main Street to watch a long procession of veterans' groups march in the Connecticut Veterans Day Parade.

"I'm a lucky man, coming here to this wonderful country," said Linden, standing and clapping as military groups passed along the 1.26-mile route in downtown Hartford. "I'm having a ball. I came from a foreign country and this is the best one of any."

But even as he celebrated those who have served in the military, Linden was dismayed that he saw no end to the need for forces that can fight and kill.

"Too bad we have to have a military, but we'll always have wars," Linden said. "The ins want to stay in, the outs want to get in. That's the main thing, the power."

Linden was among an estimated 25,000 spectators who lined the parade route along Trinity, Asylum and Main streets, watching a record 3,500 marchers. The parade stretched so long that the first marchers completed the route before the last marchers stepped off.

It proved too long for the 1st Company Governor's Foot Guard. The guard was placed far back in the parade list, as part of what a parade organizer said was supposed to be a "grand finale." That apparently did not sit well with the Guard, which ended up pulling out of the parade.

"When we got there, it was just we were so far back, it was just too late for us to participate in the parade because we had other commitments," Maj. Dennis Conroy, commandant of the Foot Guard, said in a phone call. Asked about those other commitments, Conroy hung up.

Throughout the afternoon, the parade was part somber memorial, part community circus. Along the route there were Marines in their crisp dress blues, Army units in camouflage, Korean War vets in powder-blue blazers and history buffs in ragged Revolutionary War uniforms. There were Vietnam vets on motorcycles and World War II vets with canes. A go-kart decked out like an A-10 fighter jet made circles in the road - before the real thing screamed overhead in the traditional Veterans Day flyover.

There were caravans devoted to disabled veterans and missing veterans and those who died in battle. There were marching bands, fife-and-drum corps - 20 of them - and firetrucks and police motorcycles and vintage convertibles.

One marcher wore a bright yellow duck costume with an oversize sailor's cap. Elsewhere, a giant inflatable National Guardsman bobbed from atop a red-white-and-blue National Guard Humvee. Toward the back of the parade, there were more than a few Shriners in tiny cars, followed by yet more Shriners in even tinier cars.

Along the route, children ate hot dogs and planted small flags in the white marble chips around the base of trees in the sidewalk.

The parade did not escape the politics of the day. Among the marchers was U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., who was swarmed by news photographers as he marched the route with Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy L. Johnson of the 5th District. More than a hour before the parade, Lieberman supporters with "I'm Sticking with Joe" signs had staked out key spots in front of the reviewing stand, and they erupted in cheers as the senator walked by, waving and wearing a broad smile.

Fifty feet behind, Ned Lamont, who is campaigning for Lieberman's job, walked with a phalanx of Democratic leaders - though his name was conspicuously absent when radio personality Ray Dunaway, the official parade announcer, listed those who were passing in front of the stand.

There was a moment of political drama early in the parade when a Lyndon LaRouche supporter - who had been arrested Friday after heckling Lieberman - was arrested again after berating Lieberman once more.

The parade also featured members of Veterans for Peace, who walked the route with three large, rolling billboards featuring vignettes of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some also carried signs reading, "Bring Them Home Now" and "Support Means Bringing Them Home."

The day began with a small ceremony at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, where the Connecticut Valley Field Music fife-and-drum corps played Civil War-era music, and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz placed a small wreath in memory of veterans.

Later, Schwartz awarded medals to the first inductees into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, honoring individuals with both distinguished military careers and distinguished community service. The inductees included James S. Peters II, an African American who was relegated to a segregated camp when he was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois during World War II, but who helped persuade the Navy in 1944 to integrate the service.

"I never dreamed this would happen to me after all I've been through," Peters said after receiving the medal. "Because we had to fight hard to get the Navy to integrate. But the Navy was the first of the military services to integrate. And a lot of my research at Great Lakes went to show the Bureau of Naval Personnel that African American sailors could, what we used to call, cut the mustard."

Peters said African Americans in the armed forces have an easier time now, saying the military no longer tolerates racism. He also said the strong showing of support at the parade will be good for the spirits of all those serving in the military today, even as he grieves for those in harm's way.

"I think this kind of ceremony just helps the whole deal," Peters said. "But let's get the war over. Let's get Iraq over."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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