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.