Lawmakers Want State Bill To Add Protection To Memorials [Huntington Herald]

March 12, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Huntington Herald on March 7, 2012

Lawmakers want thieves and vandals to pay a hefty price when they desecrate veterans memorials. This past week, representatives from Shelton testified to support the bill.

“The theft of property unfortunately has become a more common occurrence in our society,” said Rep. Jason Perillo. “Items stolen nowadays are copper, bronze and other valuable metals and then sold for scrap. In particular, two sources of these metals include veterans monuments and memorials found on town greens as well as cemeteries.”

Perillo and state Sen. Kevin Kelly testified on Feb. 28 supporting SB 198, An Act Concerning Desecration of War or Veterans’ Memorials, in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

SB 198 would double the existing fine to up to $10,000 for a theft or damage of over $1,000 and up to $4,000 for a theft or damage under $1,000, and the court would require full restitution for all costs of repair and replacement of the property.

“The heftier penalty is a proper punishment for the crime and will assist to compensate towns for the repair or replacement of those memorials and monuments that honor our veterans and war heroes,” said Perillo.

The effort came from events last year. In the fall, thefts of memorial plaques were reported from cities and towns in the state, including Shelton.

“Last year, during Memorial Day weekend, vandals struck Veterans Park in Shelton,” said Kelly in prepared remarks. “They turned American flags upside down, sprayed graffiti on the sidewalks, and sprayed more on the monuments themselves. I was disgusted and appalled that these vandals had absolutely no respect for the veterans who are represented in that park.”

The bill would impose harsher penalties on those who vandalize war or veterans memorials by doubling the fine and requiring that those who are convicted pay full repair and replacement costs for all damages.

Ansonia police reported on Dec. 1 that two of seven bronze plaques listing Valley servicemen had been stolen from the Woodbridge Avenue war memorial.

One was a World War II plaque and the other a Vietnam War plaque.
The Ansonia memorial first took shape in 1942 as a simple flag with stars sewn on it, according to Woodbridge Avenue Committee members.

One star represented each person serving in the war. Two gold stars represented two Valley men killed in action — Armando Vesselli and Joseph Malloy.

The thieves unscrewed the mounting bolts and removed both plaques before fleeing, police said. The plaques were stolen because of their value as precious metals and probably sold at a metal scrap yard.

Memorial plaques have also been stolen from sites in Derby and Shelton since late November.

In Derby, thieves took three large bronze plaques in late November from Witek Memorial Park that honored Medal of Honor recipient Frank P. Witek. The plaques contained the citation that accompanied the Medal of Honor given to Witek, a Derby native who served with the U.S. Marines in World War II and died during a fierce battle on Guam.

In Shelton, a historical plaque honoring Commodore Isaac Hull, a commander during the War of 1812, was reported missing on Nov. 22.

In January, U.S. Reps. Christopher Murphy and Rosa DeLauro spoke at a rally in Ansonia to show their support for a proposed federal bill similar to the proposed state bill.

“The cornerstone to democracy is free speech,” said Kelly. “However, embodied in our First Amendment, there are limits to that freedom. We need to do everything we can to protect the veterans who serve our country, ensure our rights and deserve our respect.”