About 45,000 people came to Hartford on Sunday afternoon to watch the Connecticut Veterans Day Parade, the largest in New England. Under cloudless skies, they waved flags and cheered as marchers streamed by.
But about an hour before the collegiate marching bands, the balloon hawkers, the vintage automobiles and the waving politicians took to the streets, a quieter tribute unfolded.
Just a few dozen spectators attended a brief wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. To them, this poignant reminder of sacrifice was among the most meaningful moments of the day.
"It's a good way to honor those who have served," said Robert Walker of Granby, who came with his wife, Marie, to watch the ritual. Walker is himself a veteran; he served in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1967. Most of his time was spent on a submarine patrolling the waters north of Russia in the midst of the Cold War.
The Connecticut Valley Field Music fife and drum corps played Civil War-era music, then state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz, Navy veteran Duncan Rowles and Ryan Woolery, 13, of Old Saybrook, placed a wreath at the foot of the arch.
"It's a fitting way to start," said Rowles, of Granby, who is active in the Navy League of the U.S. and helps organize the annual parade, now in its 10th year.
Ryan was asked to participate in the ceremony because he won an essay contest sponsored by veterans' groups.
"They lost their lives for our country," Ryan said. "They gave up their lives fighting for our rights."
Ryan's winning essay landed him the privilege of riding in the parade. He was one of more than 4,000 people participating in the event, which included more than 25 marching bands. Retired Army Capt. Paul W. "Buddy" Bucha, a Vietnam veteran from Ridgefield and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, was the grand marshal.
Honorary grand marshals included retired Army Capt. Madelon Visintainer Baranoski of Meriden, a Vietnam War nurse; retired Connecticut National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. William W. Chapman II of Willington; retired Navy Capt. William J. McGurk of Somers, who is president and CEO of Rockville Bank; and retired Army Capt. Eleanor Shirshac Becker of Killingworth, who served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II.
Jim and Doris Hughes arrived at the parade partly as a tribute to Becker, whose son is married to Doris Hughes' sister.
Becker, 92, grew up on a farm in Coventry and enlisted at a time when women weren't really expected to go into the military, Doris Hughes said. "She's a real firecracker," Hughes added.
The parade, which stepped off from the corner of Buckingham and Washington streets near the Capitol, featured a moment of silence at exactly 2 p.m. Volunteers held up bright red signs alerting the crowd and, within seconds, all action stopped as observers and marchers alike pondered the sacrifices made by members of the military.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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