Letter: Memorial Day is a time to reflect

To the editor,

On Memorial Day it is important to reflect upon and honor our nation’s past. Certainly, the darkest of these historical times was the Civil War, a tragedy so horrific that it left our nation in utter disarray. The death toll was some 750,000 people, more than all other American conflicts combined. Many fail to recognize just how penetrating the war was on our society. Every state, every county and every town was substantially impacted by the fighting. Of the 55,864 Connecticut citizens that had served, 5,354 did not make it home. The small town of Naugatuck was no exception. In 1860, the town population was 2,295. Out of this total, 219 men are credited with serving in the Civil War; 23 died. They fought at places like Antietam, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor.  

When the war was over, Naugatuck, like the rest of the nation, was still reeling from the struggle. How, people wondered, could they make sense of the great tragedy that had befallen them? The Soldier’s Monument was their answer. Located in the center of town on what is now called the Town Green, the monument was an effort made by citizens of the past to justify the war, honor those who had perished and survived, and to serve as an example of a town’s continued remembrance.

Naugatuck’s monument is relatively old in comparison to other Connecticut monuments. In autumn of 1879, The Grand Army of the Republic’s Isbell Post began campaigning in order to erect a monument to commemorate the war. On Feb. 3, 1880, the town overwhelmingly voted in favor of the construction. Set to be erected on the School Green in the center of the town, the board voted for a $3,500 budget. The Isbel Post managed to raise $1,460, but in 1882 they petitioned the town to impose a tax to cover the remaining costs. Shortly afterwards, the town called a special meeting and approved the tax. In 1884, a contract was signed with Ryegate Granite in South Ryegate, Vt. They designed and constructed the monument, finishing in 1885. When all was said and done, only $61 of the monument funds remained.

In May of 1885, Naugatuck citizens gathered at the green for the dedication. In a stunning turnout, over a thousand, almost half of the town’s population of 2,300, attended the momentous occasion, revealing just how important it was. Bronson B. Tuttle, chairman of the monument committee, presented the Soldiers’ Monument. Rev. W.F Blackman “placed the monument into the keeping of the town,” and Rev. James Fagan of St. Francis Church accepted it on behalf of the citizens. After the ceremony, as the veil was slowly pulled away to reveal the memorial, church bells rang and volleys of gunfire echoed through the air. Truly, this must have been a site to behold as the town remembered, honored, and devoted itself to connecting both past and future.

The design of the monument is worth understanding. It is not merely a memorial to the dead, as many Civil War monuments are. It does not list the names of the dead. It is not located near a cemetery or at a church. Rather, Naugatuck’s monument lists the names of battles, large and small, and includes a veteran soldier standing tall as an example of what the town’s sons did in defense of the Union. The statue is located in the center of town on what was then called the “School Green,” clearly meant to serve as a civic model for the future. The people at the time would have certainly understood this.

The original meaning behind the Soldiers’ Monument has, perhaps, less relevance today. There are no living Civil War veterans to honor, parting the emphasis on surviving soldiers to the vaults of history. Still, the town continues to remember in its own way. Many as of late have no idea what the monument represents, even though so many of our civic events take place directly under the soldier’s gaze. I have lived in Naugatuck all my life, and almost every town event that I can remember has incorporated the Soldiers’ Monument in the festivities in some way. During the yearly Naugatuck River Duck Race, many of the stands and games extend all the way up into the green surrounding the memorial. Parades especially pay extra attention to the monument. 2013’s Memorial Day parade paid special homage, firing rounds into the air around the green and in doing so, mirroring the unveiling 128 years earlier. This coming Memorial Day let us do so again, and take the extra step of placing flowers at the base of the Soldier’s Monument, for the actual origins of Memorial Day was Decoration Day, when people places flowers on veteran’s graves. Can the people of Naugatuck take a moment, bring a flower, and remember?

Nicholas Streifel

Naugatuck

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