PHOTOS: 2023 Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony


Memorial Day 2023

Prior to Memorial Day this year, it had been 10 years since New Canaan’s John McLane addressed a crowd that gathered to remember and honor our nation’s war dead. 

2023 Memorial Day Grand Marshall and Keynote Speaker, John F. McLane. Credit: Michael Dinan

A U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, McLane observed in a keynote address during VFW Post 653’s annual Memorial Day ceremony held Monday in Lakeview Cemetery that “much has changed, not all for the better.”

“Today, divisions are growing,” McLane told more than 350 residents gathered at the cemetery on a sunny, breezy morning following the Memorial Day Parade. 

“Traditions and values are being called into question,” he continued. “Yet I would respectfully suggest that in the quiet, serene settings like this one all across America, citizens can still come together and feel a renewed sense of unity and purpose, harmony and hope. This is what makes today, Memorial Day, so special. We honor the people in New Canaan cemeteries, not for their fame and fortune, not for their achievements, but what they so generously gave: Their faithful service in, for some, their highest and last full measure of devotion.”

Members of the New Canaan Police Department march during the 2023 Memorial Day Parade. Credit: Michael Dinan

McLane called Memorial Day “the most expensive day on the calendar.”

“Throughout history, those who go into harm’s way have asked two questions,” he said. “First, will I die today? And secondly, if I do, will I be remembered? We’re standing on New Canaan’s hallowed ground where our heroes rest. So before you leave for your picnics, for your family activities today, your barbecues, please remember to take a moment to read some of their headstones. You will be inspired and they will be remembered.”

McLane’s poignant address anchored a moving service held amid a cemetery dotted with some 1,300 American flags newly planted alongside the gravestones of servicemen and women interred in New Canaan—a volunteer effort organized by the VFW. 

Sperry DeCew looks on as VFW Post 653 Commander Mike McGlinn addresses the crowd gathered in Lakeview Cemetery for the 2023 Memorial Day ceremony. Credit: Michael Dinan

The service included prayers led by the Rev. Matt Curry, senior pastor at United Methodist Church and VFW Chaplain Brian Vanderheyden, a 1965 New Canaan High School graduate and former U.S. Marine corporal and Vietnam War veteran, remarks from VFW Post 653 Commander Mike McGlinn, a U.S. Army artillery officer during the Vietnam War, introductions and thanks from First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, placement of two wreaths to honor the dead by members of the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, placement of flags of remembrance by Girl Scouts, playing of Taps by bugler Michael Mank, playing of the national anthem by the New Canaan Town Band, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a gun salute led by the Sea Cadets. 

World War II Veteran Frank Gallo of New Canaan at the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony in Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

In addition to New Canaan veterans and members of the Police and Fire Departments and New Canaan Emergency Medical Services, those in attendance included World War II veteran Frank Gallo, a VFW member who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and Edith Linger (formerly Lown), who has lived in New Canaan since 1923. An active and longtime member of St. Mark’s Episcopalian Church, Linger is an alumna of Center School and New Canaan High School who was stationed in San Francisco, working in the U.S. military’s classified department from 1941 to 1943, decoding messages, VFW officials say.

Edith Linger, a New Canaan resident since 1923, at the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony in Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

McGlinn during his remarks asked those gathered at the cemetery to remember three numbers related to Memorial Day. First, he said, 645,000, which is the number of U.S. casualties among servicemen and women from World War I to the present. Second, 58,000, which is the number of servicemen and women who lost their lives in Vietnam alone. 

And the final number is 13,” McGlinn said. “That’s the number of servicemen and women who lost their lives in the disgraceful withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. We’ve already forgotten about them. So please, keep those in mind.”

Curry during an opening prayer called on those in attendance to “remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country.”

VFW Post 653 Commander Mike McGlinn during the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

“We will support those bereft by their absence,” he said. “We will remember to seek reconciliation, knowing that while we cannot control the ways of the world, we can seek to work for peace in our own lives and communities. Lord God, until there is no need for men and women to place themselves in harm’s way, we will remember and give thanks for those who did and died.”

McLane, who has an extensive military history in his own family, including great-grandfathers who had fought during the American Civil War, said during his address that he’d been proud to serve in Vietnam even though it took him more than 40 years to join the VFW—a significant milestone in his life that he credits to the late Peter Langenus, former commander of the local VFW Post 653 who had commanded a rifle company in Vietnam—the Third Battalion, Seventh Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade.

Peter Langenus’s gravestone in Lakeview Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Krolikowski family

He led this post and held it together almost by himself for many years,” McLane said of his friend. “He could not be with us up on this hill today, but I know he’s here. I’m standing here because of him and whatever honor it appears I may be receiving today truly belongs to him.”

Vietnam became “an unpopular war,” he said, “and being a vet was not always considered an asset on a resume or in society.”

“Many vets were not given the respect they deserved, and they just tried to put it all behind them and go on with their lives,” he said. “However, war is difficult to forget, especially if you’ve been in combat, and about one in seven or about 15% of the personnel in Vietnam were in a position to see combat. So for years I was happy just to spend Memorial Day alone and to grieve by myself. To grieve for the men I lost. The men I was responsible for.”

VFW Chaplain Brian Vanderheyden, a 1965 New Canaan High School graduate and former U.S. Marine corporal and Vietnam War veteran, during the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

It’s a burden that McLane has shared with his own father, who was drafted into the military as a grunt just months prior to the United States entering World War II, was deployed to the Pacific theater, served for five years and returned as a captain and infantry company commander.

In the late-1960s, on Memorial Day, McLane said he and his father talked about how alike, and different, their experiences in war had been.

“They were similar in two major ways, probably similar to what infantrymen had experienced throughout history,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time you are only uncomfortable, often miserable, wet, dirty, sleepy, tired, hungry, dehydrated, worried and often bored. One percent of the time—we’re not gonna talk about. Some of the other comparisons: Dad went to the Pacific on a troop ship and when he boarded he said a band played ‘Sentimental Journey,’ and he thought that was pretty tacky. I left on a Northwest Orient Airlines jet, no band, and the last song I could remember was ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking.’ ”

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan during the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

McLane said that in some ways he was “luckier than dad.”

“We got mail regularly, and packages from home,” he said. “Some of the guys were even getting audio tapes. In his war, he was lucky to get a meal at all. The two most coveted things that I had in the field that I got from home were hot sauce and lemonade powder. Think about that for a minute. The lemonade powder, you took a pinch, you put it in your canteen and they made the water drinkable. Cause we used to use these iodine tablets you put in your canteen and you really didn’t want to drink that water. At least it wasn’t gonna make you too sick. The hot sauce made the food edible. The third important item that we had out there, we didn’t get from home. It was the toilet paper I carried in my helmet liner because it was up in there and when it rained it would keep it fairly dry.”

The average age of those fighting also wasn’t that different, McLane said (about 19 in Vietnam).

Grand Marshal John McLane during the 2023 Memorial Day observance ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

“We saw a lot at a young age, and once you see things like that, you’re never the same,” he said. “Dad and I agreed it was difficult to get much sleep in the field because of the stress and concern.”

The father and son also shared their profound second-guessing in the wake of lives lost among those serving under them, McLane said.

“We were responsible,” he said. “Did we check everything? Was there something we had forgotten? What if? What if? What if? It was difficult to communicate the feelings we had on that Memorial Day. Dad and I discussed what we could and could not control. Logically, if you can’t control something, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Of course, that’s only logic. For years, I asked myself: Wasn’t there something I could have done to arrive at a better outcome? It’s awesome for a 23-, 24-year-old to have that much authority and responsibility. Dad and I were responsible 24 hours a day for everything our men did for everything they did not do. For all the equipment and for accomplishing the mission. As officers, we understood that accomplishing the mission was number one. The welfare of the troops had to be second. That was our duty. Personally, is it winning if people die? So we had to live with the consequences and still do today.”

The men also asked questions of each other, he said.

“Did I do OK? What could I have done better? Dad, what would you have done? Was it OK I came back and some of my guys didn’t? Should I feel guilty? We shared. We laughed. We cried. That Memorial Day, we didn’t go to a parade. We didn’t wave any flags. That Memorial Day, we remembered and we honored our guys. And that day my father was not only my father, but he became my brother.”

8 thoughts on “PHOTOS: 2023 Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony

  1. To clarify, Edith Linger was in the Women’s Army Corps for the duration of WW2. She enlisted in the auxiliary and re-enlisted when they became part of the regular army. She returned home to New Canaan in 1945.

  2. Wonderful display of photos Mike.
    Brought tears to re read such incredible speech by McLane. So pointed. Classmates NCHS 65 Sperry DeCew & Brian Van derHeyden recalling their experiences. Past Grand Marshall dear Frank Gallo WWII, Battle of the Bulge, Edith Linger dedicated achievements. Proud their all part of my hometown hero’s. That’s why I participate with the local chapter of NSDAR.

  3. From start to finish you captured the spirit of our fabulous community… if you’re not IN the parade, you’re watching it. A Norman Rockwell moment to be treasured.

  4. I loved John McClane’s comments,especially the Memorial Day he shared with his father. My father was in the Royal Air Force and was responsible for putting Lancaster Bombers “back together again”. The one thing he told me that they never asked the men when they returned who they had lost on that day. I do not think that those who have not served can understand what those in war went through. He never talked about it. His father had also served in the Boer War and received a Military Cross from his service in Gallipoli and had been gassed in the trenches. I believe he suffered PHD till he died at 99 years of age.

  5. Mike,

    It was appropriate that one of your photos was of Sperry DeCew. In the wake of the sudden and shocking passing of New Canaan Cemetery Association President R. Bailey Stewart, Sperry was unanimously elected as his successor at a special meeting of the Board. Beth Jones was elected to succeed Sperry as Secretary. They will carry on Bailey’s deep devotion to the Cemetery and all those who repose there.

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