Sen. Harding: “We live in freedom because of vets’ sacrifices.”

July 29, 2023

Bysiewicz tour stop honors Kent veterans


KENT — Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz visited town Tuesday to say “thank you and welcome home” to local veterans of the Korean and Vietnam War eras.

Bysiewicz began the tradition of showing appreciation to veterans in 2008 when she was secretary of the state and realized 1,500 World War II veterans were being lost every day.

“So I started out to thank you all,” she said.

Between 2008 and 2015, she reached out to 15,000 former military service people. When she became lieutenant governor, she wanted to finish that journey. She has now visited more than 80 communities.

She described how the veterans of both those conflicts had similar experiences. The Korean War never officially ended, so the veterans didn’t get the recognition deserved when they returned home. The Vietnam veterans faced a terrible reception because so many citizens were against the war and sadly took it out on them, she said. Both sets endured terrible weather conditions, including monsoons, searing heat and unbearable cold.

“It’s amazing the qualities they shared; they were humble and committed to service,” she said. “They are examples of good role models. We must always support those who put their lives on the line for their country.”

During her talk, Bysiewicz gave some statistics, noting that 36,000 U.S. military personnel died in Korea; 326 from Connecticut. For Vietnam, it was 58,000 nationally and 614 from Connecticut.

Also on hand to honor the recipients was Ronald Welch, commissioner of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Enlisting right out of high school, he had a 40-year military career, retiring as a general.

“War changes us,” he told the audience. “We’re never the same when we get back.” He urged those who are suffering from the effects of those experiences to reach out and get help.

First Selectman Jean Speck talked about how the grownups in her family would go off during gatherings to talk about their war experiences. She, too, said she hoped veterans are aware of the services that are offered.

State Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, said, “You were expected to come home and bury your wounds; sweep them under the rug. But most came home to serve their communities in different ways. We owe you a deep debt of gratitude.”

State Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said, “We live in freedom because of your sacrifices.”

When the veterans were asked to speak, it took some coaxing from Bysiewicz, but eventually Tom Brady broke the ice. He served two tours of duty in Korea and said he has no regrets. He gained a great deal of experience and knowledge that helped in his career with a phone company and later as a Connecticut state trooper.

Another said he and his fiancee were all set to get married — the invitations had been sent — when he got called to go to Vietnam, where he was for a year.

John Barton said he was tagged right out of college. “It was here’s your diploma and here’s your draft notice.” He was not in combat, but worked in support services.

Tom Holcombe said he thought getting drafted was a big disaster, but looking back, it was a valuable growing experience for him. He spent his whole military career at Fort Dix in New Jersey, where, as an organ player, he was tapped to be the clergy’s assistant.

“I learned to get along with a lot of people,” he said. “I was fearful of going to Vietnam, but now I happily go since my son married a woman from there.”

Each veteran received citations from Bysiewicz and from the offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.