Wreath-laying ceremony a draw in Watertown

May 30, 2017

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WATERTOWN – Watertown held its Memorial Day Parade and Observances Monday, including laying wreaths at a new World War II monument.

WATERTOWN – Steady rain and an unseasonable chill didn’t dampen the solemn pride of about 200 people at Monday’s Memorial Day observances.

Organizers say it was one of the biggest crowds in recent memory. Many were drawn to the laying of wreaths at the new, but not entirely complete, World War II monument on the town Green. Bronze plates bearing the names of 2,045 Watertown residents who served will arrive late, so a laminated cardboard replica was affixed to the granite monument as a stand-in.

In a ceremony leading to the laying of wreaths, State Sen. Eric C. Berthel, R-Watertown, spoke of the town’s strong patriotism.

“We have a rich history of sending men and women to fight and defend freedom in foreign lands and to uphold what we believe is the God-given right to be a free people,” Berthel said. “On this Memorial Day, my words cannot express my appreciation or the appreciation of the people of this community for the service of our country by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice fighting to defend freedom and democracy.”

Attendees took pictures of the memorial, often looking for familiar names.

“I found them!” Joan Barkus of Watertown exclaimed to her husband. Her father and three uncles had served in World War II. One uncle became a prisoner of war in Europe.

“He would have been quite pleased to see it,” Barkus said of her father. “It signifies freedom for our country and our people. And having relatives on it makes me very proud.”

The monument cost about $14,000. The Watertown-Oakville Veterans Council, Oakville VFW Post 7330, American Legion Post 195, and Watertown VFW Post 5157 have raised around $16,000. The surplus will be used for maintenance and to build a path to the monument. Bricks have also been installed beside the monument bearing names of Watertown residents who moved into town after serving in the war.

Thomas G. Ulinskas, 93, found his name and that of his brother, Vytantas, who both served in the Army. Thomas Ulinskas entered near the end of the war and volunteered for one delivery of ammunition up the dangerous Burma Road.

“You like to be recognized for what you did and what you were involved in,” Ulinskas said.

There were only a few World War II veterans scattered among the crowd. “In five years our ranks will be very, very, thin,” Ulinskas said. “They’re thin now.”

Jacqueline Stanevich found the name of her husband, Francis Stanevich, who served in occupation of Germany. She met her husband many years later, after moving to Connecticut to be a governess for a family in Middlebury. She said she never met her brother-in-law, Clement Stanevich, a soldier who was killed after the Japanese army seized the Philippines.

Jacqueline Stanevich, who was a child living on a farm in Normandy when the Allies invaded, recalled American soldiers taking her to safety as the fighting raged nearby.

“I wouldn’t be here” without them, she said.

Contact Michael Puffer at [email protected].