Dignitaries, veterans and citizens flock to South Benson Marina
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – It was a multi-faceted occasion and a highlight of the area’s Memorial Day weekend celebration.
Held Saturday morning at South Benson Marina, the Sea Memorial Ceremony, coordinated by National Association of Naval Veterans (NANV) Chaplain Dave Russell and facilitated by both town departments and various veterans and active military organizations, paid tribute to servicemen from all branches of the military that lost their lives at sea.
The event commenced at 9:30 a.m. at the entry to the marina, with a raising of the American flag at the toll house. In the presence of assembled V.F.W., American Legion and Disabled Veterans, Joe Bender, a local V.F.W. commander, said, “We are assembled to express sincere reverence and gratitude to those who served our country and gave their life both on the land and sea.”
While the Fairfield Gaelic Pipe Band played “Amazing Grace”, the flag was hoisted up the pole to half-mast by two members of Boy Scouts Troop 82. Fellow troop members stood in formation nearby, joined by State Representative Tony Hwang.
All gathered then strolled to the Gas Dock to join a larger crowd that included town dignitaries, veterans, active servicemen and Coast Guard members from New Haven. Among the crowd was Acting First Selectman Sherri Steeneck, Selectman James Walsh, Town Clerk Betsy Brown, Judge Daniel Caruso, Senator John McKinney, Police Chief Gary McNamara, Fire Chief Dick Felner, Former Police Chief Joe Sambrook, State Representative Brenda Kupchick, State Representative Kim Fawcett, Congressman Jim Himes and U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.
Looking on with great respect, Felner said, “I’m proud to be here. I was in the Marine Corps and admire the veterans. If it wasn’t for all these old timers, we wouldn’t be here today. Dave Russell should be commended.”
As servicemen representing the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Merchant Marines stood in line along the dock, Captain Roger Crossland, U.S. Naval Reserve (Ret.), stood atop the bow of the Tea Totaler, one of three private yachts and a Coast Guard patrol boat moored there, and addressed the crowd, which lined the bank of the inlet by the bait shack. Crossland, dressed in a white uniform with abundant medals on the breast pocket, welcomed both veterans and active duty soldiers that had recently returned from Afghanistan.
“This is a Fairfield tradition in keeping with a long maritime tradition,” said Crossland. “We remember those resting and those in watery graves without a marker. We are here to honor, not to grieve.”
Commander of NANV’s Port 5 local chapter and Master Chief for the Ceremony, Richard Iannucci took roll call from all the groups then Chaplain Frank Wismer offered a Sea Service Prayer, expanding upon Crossland’s remarks. “We gather to honor those whose sacrifice and courage through military service has secured the ideals upon which our nation is founded,” he said.
Wismer’s prayer was followed by Fairfield Ludlowe High School Chorale students’ rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and then a symbolic recognition of veterans of foreign wars and conflicts wherein attending veterans of those campaigns stepped forward and saluted on behalf of their fellow comrades.
A reading of the names of local veterans that “passed on to their final reward” ensued, accented by the toll of a bell as each name was introduced.
Trumbull resident and Annapolis graduate Edward C. Lovely then spoke about Commodore John Barry and the efforts of the Fairfield Hibernians to spur Congress to have the Irish-born navy man officially recognized as the first commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. “In the space of 58 years, he rose from a humble cabin boy to senior commander of the entire United States fleet,” he said. “He fought the first and last battles of the Revolutionary War.”
After the Piper Band performed an encore of “Amazing Grace”, Korean War naval veteran Phil Sera and Dave Schultz, son of late Merchant Marine Ed Schultz, tossed overboard from the stern of the moored Hideway a ceremonial wreath. This rite was briefly delayed due to veteran Frank Slovenski, who was standing amongst veterans along the dock, suffering heat stroke. Slovenski was removed on a gurney by medical personnel.
The dockside ceremony concluded with the firing of three rounds from rifles toted by a quartet of V.F.W. veterans, the playing of Taps by buglers Steve Smith and John Convertito, a second chorale group number and the awarding of plaques to Iannucci and Crossland for their support of the event.
Though the Ceremony had officially ended, a flotilla of six watercraft, including the four moored boats dockside along with Fairfield Marine Police and Coast Guard Auxiliary, motored out into the fog-obscured Sound to drop and set adrift the wreath that had earlier been released but retrieved.