Borough honors war dead, veterans

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NAUGATUCK — Thousands braved the sweltering heat Monday to attend the borough’s 2010 Memorial Day parade, where they enjoyed appearances by local veterans and military divisions as well as representatives of civic and social clubs, public safety units, schools and youth sports teams.

Retired Lieut. Col. Peter Rembetsy, a World War II veteran and the parade’s grand marshal, rode in an olive green jeep, leading the procession past a reviewing stand in front of Town Hall, where state and borough officials looked on, and onto Division Street — now also known as Franklin E. Johnson Way, in honor of the late WWII vet — where the parade ended.

The crowd’s enthusiastic celebration and flag-waving was intermittently broken by bouts of solemnity, prayer and remembrance as officials raised the flag to half-mast and spoke at a ceremony on the green following the morning’s march.

Samuel Sanchez, a Vietnam vet who spoke on behalf of the Hispanic War Veterans, said he simply wanted to solemnly honor the war dead of America on a day often marked by celebration.

“Memorial Day is not about picnics, or opening the beaches for people to go swimming, but it is to remember people who have died in every war that went before us,” he said. “It’s a day to remember your men or women who have died in foreign lands fighting for our freedoms, so we can work and have the right to live and say what we wish and practice the religion that we choose.”

Mayor Bob Mezzo said Memorial Day is, to him, a call to live fully in honor of the thousands who have died to give us the opportunity to do so.

“There’s a big difference between living and existing,” he said. “Those [war] monuments don’t say, ‘they gave their lives so others could go through life without meaning or purpose,’ or that ‘they gave their lives so we could dwell on petty differences, or hold insignificant grudges against fellow citizens,’ or that ‘they gave their lives so that others could amount massive wealth and possession without connection to community,’ or that ‘they gave their lives so that others might waste the gifts, the precious gifts granted to us by our creator.’ That’s not living.”

Living, he said, is about “coming together as a people” and working respectfully to build community ties, and to “cherish the love of family, friends and the precious gift of life itself.”

After comments from Mezzo, Sanchez, burgesses and representatives of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and British and Canadian militaries, Johnson’s surviving family presented the first-ever Franklin E. Johnson High School ROTC Merit Award to Corey Boulanger, Cadet Corps Commander of the NHS Air Force Jr. ROTC program.

Aassdeep Kaur, a Hillside Middle School, recited the Gettysburg Address and accepted the 2010 Phillips-Hollister Award.

Francis Dambowsky, vice chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans’ Council, recited the names of Naugatuck’s war dead dating from the Revolutionary War to the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And to close the ceremony, Dambowsky, Mezzo and Rembetsy, to the tune of Taps, placed a wreath in their honor near the gazebo before offering a final salute.

And perhaps Mezzo’s encouragement stuck in the minds of residents and visitors who eventually vacated the green and the downtown area, moving on to various picnics, parties or cookouts: “Memorial Day is a day when we honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, but it’s also a day about the living. It’s about us. … Let us live in Naugatuck.”