On Veterans Day, Ridgefield salutes those who served

RIDGEFIELD — The grounds of Lounsbury House teemed with a knowing silence Thursday morning as residents gathered to salute the nation’s veterans.

American Legion Post 78 presented the Veterans Day program alongside the Marine Veterans of Fairfield County and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations. Ridgefielders young and old came to pay tribute to the town’s service members, as well as America’s millions of veterans.

“We need to always promote Americanism and have everybody appreciate what the veterans (have) done, and not let them forget about all the freedoms they enjoy and how they got ‘em,” Post Commander George Besse said. “It wasn’t just by Congress — it was by ... everybody in the service.

“Veterans are the ones who are lucky enough to come home,” he continued, “and we gotta remember those and thank them for their service.”

Among those is Ridgefield Fire Chief Jerry Myers, who was the ceremony’s featured speaker. Though Myers always knew he wanted to be a firefighter, the department wasn’t hiring at the time he graduated from Ridgefield High School. The service, he said, was the next best thing.

Myers enlisted in the army and received basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. He then went to Fort Sam in Houston, Texas, for combat medical specialist training. From there he was deployed to Illesheim, Germany, with the 1st Armored Division. After completing his three-year enlistment in July 1980, Myers returned home and joined the Ridgefield Fire Department.

“In the military they teach you some really valuable lessons about teamwork and responsibility that translate really well into public service,” said Myers, who in his speech referenced the palpable kinship between veterans and first responders. “To come back and be asked to speak to other veterans, it’s a big deal for me.”

The program featured remarks and readings from members of the veterans organizations, vocalist Alyssa Marushak, of Redding, and reflections from First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Ms. President US of Ridgefield Maggie Fleuette.

In his welcoming remarks, Besse reminded the crowd of the origins of Veterans Day. It was originally known as Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I and consecrated a cause for world peace. President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to apply to all of America’s service members.

“We went where we were told to go, did what we were told to do, and we are proud of that service,” Legion Chaplain John Gillaugh said.

In his reflection, Marconi said it is America’s soldiers who assure our freedoms are protected. But he questioned why the nation’s discourse has “devolved (into) questionable respect,” noting that antisemitism and verbal attacks are common occurrences.

“We need to take responsibility for our actions and words, respect one another, listen … with a curious and open mind … and embody good citizenship,” he said. “These are the rights, values and freedoms we thank our veterans for today.”

Myers agreed. “(We’ve lost) track of the ideals we were formed with,” he said, “so for the veterans who have written a blank check to the United States … it’s important that we give a little tip of the hat to them every year.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com