‘So Many Ways To Stay Connected’: New Canaan Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony [PHOTOS]


New Canaan’s Jim Talbot arrived in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, a major campaign of the war that launched in early 1968 and involved a series surprise attacks.

Dr. Jim Talbot, guest speaker, during a ceremony at Town Hall following the Memorial Day Parade on May 20, 2017. Credit: Michael Dinan

A Maine native who had gone on to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Army Capt. Talbot by that time had undergone airborne and Ranger training, and spent one year stationed in West Germany.

In six months as battery commander, Talbot saw four killed and 40 wounded in his towed artillery unit.

“When you ask a veteran about Memorial Day, faces flash in front of us,” Talbot said from a podium outside the north entrance of Town Hall following a re-routed Memorial Day parade.

Crowds at a ceremony at Town Hall following the Memorial Day Parade on May 20, 2017. Credit: Michael Dinan

“Memories of relatives in more distant wars arise from the fog of time. We were the last of the universal conscription era. Now Memorial Day may not even evoke the thought of a relative for many. Memorial Day may simply be flags in a cemetery or a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, with great emphasis being on ‘unknown.’ Memorial Day is very close and personal to me and to any veteran. Within five years of graduation from West Point, 34 of my classmates—many close friends—were killed in action. Many more were wounded. At the top of my Memorial Day list are the 115 troops whom I was committed to return alive and unharmed. Those who did not return to the unit I last saw after firefights, as we prepared them for dust-off to the rear.”

The Girl Scouts sang “God Bless America” during a ceremony at Town Hall following the Memorial Day Parade on May 20, 2017. Credit: Michael Dinan

On a day that called for poor weather and saw many towns cancel their Memorial Day services, more than 300 New Canaanites gathered in light rain to honor those servicemen and women who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Organized by VFW Post 653 Commander Peter Langenus, a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam who also served as a colonel during Operation Desert Storm, the solemn ceremony included special recognition for town resident Paul Gallo, a 92-year-old World War II veteran who was honored as grand marshal of the parade—a man who fought with the U.S. Army 78th Infantry division through the Heurtgen Forest, the Bulge and the Remagen Bridge head.

First Selectman Rob Mallozzi presents a VFW certificate of recognition to Anna Valente-Krolikowski at a ceremony at Town Hall following the Memorial Day Parade on May 20, 2017. Credit: Michael Dinan

Two other New Canaan residents also earned special recognition from the VFW: Anna Valente-Krolikowski for her “kindness and support for the veterans of New Canaan and for patriots both young and old,” First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said in reading out the organization’s certificate, and bugler Don Gels, in “grateful appreciation for your service as the alpha and the omega for the town of New Canaan’s ceremonies and celebrations.”

During the ceremony, the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a memorial wreath, girl scouts sang “God Bless America” and prayers were led by both Chaplain John McLane, a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, and First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan’s the Rev. Paul Gilmore.

“We remember the brave men and women of every faith who have given their lives on the land, in the air and upon the sea in defense of our freedom and liberty, from the Minutemen killed at Lexington or Concord to the brothers killed from both the North and South in the Civil War, the greatest generation who gave their lives in World War II to the active duty troops and National Guard men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gilmore said.

In his own comments, Langenus thanked those who donated their time or funds to support an annual VFW-led effort to place flags on each veterans’ gravesite in New Canaan.

“Wherever the body of a comrade lies, there the ground is hallowed,” Langenus said. “Our presence here is in commemoration to all these men and women, an expression to each of their devotion to duty, to courage and patriotism. By their services on land, sea and in the air they have made us our debtors.”

Langenus also relayed some notes regarding Gallo’s connection to New Canaan—for example, that he had been discharged from the Army in April of 1946 and at the end of that year met a New Canaan native named Viola (or “Vie,” as she was known) on a blind date.

“It was the luckiest day of my life,” Langenus read out, channeling Gallo who sat nearby. The couple was married for 61 years—a fact that drew appreciative applause from the crowd—before Viola Gallo was lost to cancer several years ago.

The ceremony was held outside the “new” north entrance to Town Hall instead of Lakeview Avenue, following a re-routed parade that only followed Main Street from St. Mark’s as far as the Wayside Cross at the bottom of God’s Acre, due to expected rain.

Known to generations of New Canaanites as an ophthalmologist long established here in town, Talbot in his stirring remarks said that joining the Army had been a turning point in his life and that enlisting resulted from practical considerations, such as cost—it was “the only option my parents and I could agree upon,” he said.

“I didn’t know how wise I was in choosing it and it is still a great option for many,” Talbot said.

Yet, in a theme that Talbot drew out in his address, that option has grown increasingly rare for the great majority of U.S. citizens fit for service—particularly in areas of the nation such as the northeast.

“In the draft era I had a broad diversity of Americans,” he said. “An enlisted man with a PhD. We knew where to use his intellect. I had Ivy League ROTC lieutenants, but nevermore. Our military is now a professional Army that is rapidly not reflecting the broad make-up of our country.”

Citing former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Talbot said the modern United States risks a growing disconnect between those who serve and those who do not. Largely a result of ending the draft, the “sense of separation” between the two populations—military and non-military—could eventually lead to the development of military leaders who are culturally, politically and otherwise disconnected from most of those they’ve sworn to defend.

“The New Canaan VFW helps greatly with its annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations to inform and education our friends, our neighbors,” Talbot said. “Why is this important? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, our Army should reflect the nation it serves, the soldiers of every color.”

The lessons and values that serving in the Armed Forces conveys are important and benefit those with a military background regardless of what professions they enter on discharge from the service, Talbot said.

“Organizations like the New Canaan VFW are critical to help tell that story,” he said. “Challenges grow greater as young men and woman have even more choices and opportunities.”

He closed by recalling a recent funeral at West Point for a ’65 classmate who had served in Vietnam. A running back on a famously strong Army football team, the man had gone on to become a banker and vintner in California’s Bay area following the war. The children of the deceased had no direct exposure to the military, yet his eldest daughter wrote a letter to her siblings about how moving the West Point funeral was and how proud she had been of her father and his service.

In response, a member of that class of ’65 responded that “we did what we had to do, when we had to do it,” Talbot said. “It is the existence of young Americans like you that justifies whatever we had to endure. No thanks necessary—just pay it forward.”

“I would ask all New Canaanites to pay it forward, by fostering in your children an interest in American history, a greater knowledge of our Armed Forces. Visit Gettysburg, tour the battlefield. Go to an Army football game, it’s only 42 minutes away. Go early and see the parade. Go to the Naval Academy. Tour there. Both places have many summer opportunities, like athletic camps, as well as leadership courses. Go to Fort Meyers, which sites above Arlington National Cemetery, and see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And you don’t need to do that on Memorial Day only. See a funeral at Arlington. So many ways to stay connected to your all-volunteer Army. Pay it forward.”

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