Wallingford honors slain veterans in Memorial Day ceremonies [Record-Journal]

May 26, 2015

Record Journal

WALLINGFORD — Veterans, town officials and residents of all ages gathered in Dutton Park for the annual Memorial Day parade Monday, bowing their heads in reverence as veterans recounted the powerful stories of soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice for America’s freedom.

The event started at 9 a.m. with soloist Lisa Zolkiewicz-Ives singing the national anthem, followed by an invocation by the Rev. Dean Warburton, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Wallingford.

Master of ceremonies George Messier, director of the Veterans Service Center, took the microphone with a commanding presence, telling the stories of the four chaplains of the SS Dorchester, which sank during World War II.

The chaplains gave up their life vests to save other soldiers, and locked arms, singing hymns as the ship sank.

“We’ve gathered today in prayer and remembrance to pay honor and respect and if we’re being honest with ourselves, to gain inspiration from those who gave all they had to give: our fallen soldiers,” Messier told the crowd.

Messier also shared the story of Navy Cross recipients Jonathan Yale and Jordan Haerter, two Marines killed protecting their comrades in Iraq. When they spotted a truck carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives hurtling toward them, the two stood their ground and opened fire, disabling the truck just before it reached the barracks where their 60 sleeping comrades slept. The truck was equipped with a dead man’s switch and detonated anyway, killing Yale and Haerter.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. gave emotionally charged remarks, his voice cracking slightly as he spoke.

“Every year this is an important day. Look around, our presence, the thoughts, the emotions of every person here to honor and remember our fallen veterans,” Dickinson said. “I believe they are here with us.”

This year’s guest speaker was Raymond Lilley II, exalted ruler of Wallingford Elks Lodge 1365. Lilley attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army for 23 years. Speaking to fellow veterans in the crowd, Lilley compared service to writing a check.

“We all remember the day we raised our right hands and took our oath,” Lilley said. “By taking that oath, we also wrote a check that was payable to you, the citizens of the United States, the amount payable up to and including our lives.”

The crowd did not applaud after the ceremony concluded, but stood for a moment of silence before disbanding to find their places with the marchers or their seats on the curb.

Ninety-two-year-old World War II veteran Ken Duncan, of Ashlar Village, one of the marchers, said Memorial Day is always very emotional for him.

“This brings back a lot of feelings,” Duncan said.

At the head of the parade, Girl Scouts Belle Christiansen and Ari Falconieri held wreaths decorated with flags to commemorate the soldiers.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said he was proud of his students for participating in the parade.

“We want to make sure the students recognize and show appropriate reverence for the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country,” Menzo said.

Wallingford resident Pat Kohl watched the parade from the curb on North Main Street with her dog Bo, who was dressed in a stars-and-stripes bandana.

“I think Wallingford has the best parade and for me. It’s very gratifying to see what a wonderful turnout we have every year,” Kohl said.

State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano was among those in the crowd. He said the Wallingford ceremony is always “top notch.”

“I don’t think I’ve missed a Wallingford Memorial Day since I was elected,” Fasano said. “Every time I’m impressed by the crowd, the participants and the ceremony. It’s just outstanding.”