NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck veterans community was dismayed Nov. 9 when four boxes of American flags were stolen from St. James Cemetery on Cross Street.
Last Friday, their melancholy mood was replaced with joy due to the outpouring of support from the community they’ve received since the theft.
“The Naugatuck community is absolutely fantastic,” said John DeBisschop, chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans Council, during a ceremony in St. James Cemetery to recognize people and businesses who have donated money to buy new flags.
The flags were meant to mark the graves of veterans. Members of VFW Post 1946, who take care of putting new flags at the graves at St. James Cemetery before Memorial Day and Veterans Day, discovered on Nov. 9 the boxes of flags that they had planned on putting up had been stolen.
Since the news spread of the theft, the council has received more than $3,000 in donations to buy more flags, according to DeBisschop. In addition to the monetary donations, Naugatuck-based Northeastern Communications donated four boxes of flags, which cost approximately $465, to the council, he said.
DeBisschop said now that the borough has received the flags, all the donated money will go towards the continued replacement of the flags.
“Our commitment, as the Naugatuck Veterans Council, is that [the money] will all go right here into our flag program, our grave markers. Each of these markers are custom made at a foundry here in Connecticut for the Naugatuck Veterans Council. … Between marker replacement and flag replacement, all of the money that has been received through all these generous donations will go right here where it belongs,” DeBisschop said.
Some of the largest donations came from Naugatuck-based High Rock Shooting Association, which donated $500, attorney Danielle Rado, who donated $465, Watertown residents William and Mary Donaher, who donated $500, and Naugatuck Valley Saving and Loan, which donated $1,000 between corporate and employee donations.
“We had been running a program to honor veterans this year from Memorial Day. It was supposed to end on Veterans Day. That’s when [the employees] walked in and told me about this. They said, ‘Can we do anything about this,’” Naugatuck Savings and Loan CEO and President William Calderara said.
The employees ran an internal campaign to raise additional funds for the replacement of the flags in conjunction with the corporate campaign.
U.S. Navy veteran Paul Miller is one of the many veterans who helps to put the flags on the graves. He said he was shocked by the amount of money that was donated.
“It’s unbelievable. Just overwhelming. We come down here, don’t say a word to nobody except our own family, do this work twice a year, and then we have this disaster; and it’s just overwhelming that people appreciate us,” Miller said.
During the ceremony Mayor Robert Mezzo thanked those who donated. Mezzo said the one good thing that came from the theft was it showed how many people were willing to step forward to support the borough’s veterans.
DeBisschop said the borough did not let the theft dampen its spirits or dampen what Veterans Day means.
“In fact it’s going to strengthen our resolve to continue doing what Naugatuck is famous for in being the patriotic community that we are. I think this is a great example that the community came up and supported us in such and unexpectedly huge way,” DeBisschop said.