On May 31, Memorial Day, we honor those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our great county. Memorial Day honors their service and sacrifice. Nearly 850 Veterans are buried in Lakeview Cemetery.
As Memorial Day approaches, it’s a good time to remind the patriotic citizens of New Canaan to be aware of phony organizations who “solicit” on behalf of Veterans. Several years ago, the late Col. Peter Langenus, U.S. Army (ret.), the then-Commander of New Canaan’s Veterans of Foreign War Post 653 received a telephone call from a shopper who had been approached for a monetary donation in front of a store in New Canaan.
The shopper thought that the solicitor’s military uniform seemed to be a mismatch of different uniforms and different branches of the service.
Ryan Krolikowski, a 2019 New Canaan High School graduate who will enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point this year, first met Col. Peter C. Langenus when he was a boy.
Son of Anna Valente-Krolikowski and New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski, himself a former U.S. Marine, Ryan recalled Langenus as the commander of VFW Post 653 who led efforts each spring and fall to plant flags and wreaths, respectively, at the gravestones of all of those buried in New Canaan who had served in the military.
“I got to know him through that and got to know him as more of a friend as the years grew on, and learned what he did for our country, and what he does now, and all of the accolades he had received,” Ryan recalled. “And I really saw him as a kind of mentor, because he chose the path I really wanted to do, and he guided me toward going to West Point.”
A U.S. Army captain in Vietnam who also served as a colonel during Operation Desert Storm, Langenus died in January following a battle with cancer. Locals knew him as a steady figure who for years organized and presided over the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in New Canaan, where the names of veterans who had passed since the prior ceremony were read aloud and where Langenus himself recited by heart the war poem “In Flanders Fields.” He also led efforts to update and display the plaques honoring New Canaan veterans that now greet visitors to Town Hall’s northern entrance.
Krolikowski soon will be the fourth generation in his family to serve in the U.S. military. He and three other scouts—Jack Goetz, Andrew Wilson and Henry Pohle—were to serve as grand marshals in this year’s parade, on Langenus’s recommendation.
Krolikowski’s own Eagle Scout project—the clearing out and plaque-ing of the Parade Hill Cemetery, where many veterans are buried, including some who died while serving—was taken on at Langenus’s suggestion.
“It was very unkempt and got really bad in recent years, and I took it on to improve it, because the veterans buried there, from the Revolution to the Civil Wars, deserved to be treated respectfully,” Krolikowski said.
New Canaan’s Steve Benko often recalls a photo that used to hang in his grandparents’ Summer Street home. It showed John and Elizabeth Benko sitting together on their front porch, while in the window hung a banner with five gold stars, indicating that five sons were in service of the nation.
Steve, Paul, John, Lewis and William Benko had volunteered to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in the months that followed the Pearl Harbor attack. Lewis Benko, a great local athlete, enlisted in the U.S. Marines in September 1942. He was wounded in July 1944 at Saipan, rejoined his unit five months later, and was killed in action during the assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945—one of 38 New Canaan men to die during World War II.
On Monday morning, Benko quoted something that his uncle Lewis said to Elizabeth as she dropped her son off at the train station prior to his leaving New Canaan for what would be the last time. “He says to my grandmother, ‘Gosh, I would never want to live anywhere else but this place,’ ” Benko told more than 150 residents gathered at God’s Acre on a clear, cool morning for the town’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, quoting from a 1946 Gold Star book featuring stories about the servicemen who never came home.
A New Canaan teen is working on an Eagle Scout project to honor local veterans. Jack Goetz, a rising New Canaan High School junior, said he plans to hang 35 banners featuring veterans from lampposts in the downtown for three weeks around Veteran’s Day in November.
A Boy Scout for around five years, Goetz is seeking to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, and is required to complete a service-related project.
“This was a project I chose because it’s a visual way to represent all that the veterans have done for our country,” Goetz said. “I think they don’t get enough credit—we don’t see it on a daily basis, how much they’ve served and I think we need to give back.” His project, titled “New Canaan Honors Our Veterans,” also has personal relevance. Goetz said that many of his family members have served in the military.
The Town Band led two parades in New Canaan on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the Allies of World War I signed an armistice with Germany to cease hostilities on the Western Front. Church bells had started ringing out at 3 a.m. that Monday in New Canaan, historians say, bonfires were lit and the townspeople burned Kaiser Wilhelm II in effigy. The war was over, signaling both the return of New Canaanites serving overseas and the end of deliberate austerity to support the Allies’ efforts. Food shortages had led to the launch of a Canning Club out of Center School’s kitchen.