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What Happened To Hartford's WWII Honor Rolls?

SUSAN JUSTER VINER

November 01, 2009

In 1941, Hartford Mayor Thomas Spellacy asked residents of each neighborhood in the city to form a committee to accomplish three things: They were to gather the names of all men and women from their neighborhood serving in World War II (and keep the list up to date), design an honor roll to those serving and raise money for the construction of their neighborhood honor roll.

By 1944, most of the neighborhoods had completed these tasks and the honor rolls began to be dedicated. Each had a different design, and, because of the shortage of funds and supplies due to the war, most were made of materials that would not be long-lasting. The hope was that after the war they would be replaced by more permanent structures.

Each dedication featured crowds from the neighborhoods, band music, words from a city official often the new mayor, William Mortensen and a great sense of pride. At age 4, I attended the dedication of the North West Honor Roll at the confluence of Greenfield, Ridgefield and Woodland streets, adjacent to Weaver High School and an entrance to Keney Park. The Honor Roll was a white wooden obelisk, and each side displayed a list of names, under glass, of those who were serving.

Two years ago, I agreed to be co-chairwoman for the publication of a book of recollections of growing up in the North End of Hartford for a local historical society. Stories were collected from people who lived in that neighborhood from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s, and several of them asked me about the honor roll.

That was how I learned that the North West Honor Roll no longer existed. All that remained was the pedestal on which the honor roll stood. Calls to the parks and public works departments yielded no answers. No one knew what happened to any of the honor rolls. I then felt compelled to track down the names that were on the honor rolls and see that they were saved in some respectful fashion.

The most fortuitous contact I made was Brenda Miller, director of the Hartford History Room on the third floor of the Hartford Public Library. This, essentially, is Hartford's historical society. We pored over books and newspaper articles. I located photos, taken by Tony DeBonee, of two of the neighborhood honor rolls in Wilson Faude's "Hartford Volume II," one of them being the North West Honor Roll.

With Brenda's help, I was eventually able to identity the names and some locations of six neighborhood honor rolls in Hartford. Besides the North West Honor Roll there was one in Sigourney Park, a Blue Ridge Honor Roll located somewhere in the upper Blue Hills neighborhood, one in Parkville on the grounds of the New Park Avenue School, one on the South Green (referred to as the First Ward), one on the southeast corner of New Britain Avenue and Broad Street, and one in the Frog Hollow neighborhood.

I also learned from newspaper articles that in September 1944, a Hartford Memorial Honor Roll listing those who lost their lives in the war was dedicated on the east lawn of the Old State House. This memorial suffered the same fate as the other honor rolls gone. By 1955, only two of the honor rolls remained intact and in place. Now none of the original Honor Rolls still stand.

I understand that 65 years have passed since these tributes were dedicated. I realize that Hartford does not have the funds to rebuild them, and because so many of the families and friends of those listed have moved out of the city, there has not been a hue and cry to do so until now.

Former North End residents, in particular, continue to ask about the North West Honor Roll. A group of veterans, many from that neighborhood, says if the remains of the obelisk are found, they would, at no cost to the city, repair it and place it in an area where it will be sheltered from the elements.

But this is a bigger issue. I want to find complete lists of all of the honor rolls and all the names that appeared on them. These lists have to exist somewhere. Are they in the bowels of city hall? Have they been passed down from to family members of original committee members? Are there more photos?

If this information is found, it will be secured as a permanent record in the Hartford History Room. If any of the physical structures can be found I don't know what will happen.

But I turn to you for help. On behalf of the families, friends, classmates and fellow veterans of Hartford's Greatest Generation. You can reach me at pharmate@sbcglobal.net or 860-688-6642.

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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