Ridgefield Korean War vet named grand marshal of Memorial Day parade: ‘Always giving back’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Richard “Dick” Godbout’s job after high school was ensuring the United States’ bombing system was working properly.

“I had to make sure the system worked 100 percent all the time,” said Godbout, now 88. “I would fly with the plane, maybe twice a month or so, to make sure the system was operational and combat ready.”

Now, the U.S. Air Force veteran who has lived in Ridgefield for over 60 years, will oversee the local Memorial Day parade. He’ll serve as grand marshal of the parade on May 30.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Godbout highly deserves the honor.

“A longtime Ridgefield resident, Dick has dedicated himself to the American Legion and our efforts in helping the town. I couldn't be prouder of an individual who sacrificed his time for our country,” Marconi said. “If you look up ‘veteran’ in the dictionary, you would see his picture. He's always volunteering, always giving back.”

Godbout, who grew up in Hartford, began serving his country right after graduating high school.

“I had applications to go to college but unfortunately the Korean War was on and my number was coming up,” he said.

After basic training and schooling, he was assigned to the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. During the four years he served, he was involved in the Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for three components of the U.S. military's strategic nuclear strike forces.

He was assigned to the 365th Bombardment Squadron and was responsible for the inner workings of the K-bombing navigation system used in the Air Force’s aircraft fleet.

In the 1950s, the Strategic Air Command had 28 bomb wings with 45 planes to a wing scattered throughout the United States.

“These bomb wings occasionally would go overseas to England, Spain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Guam, Japan, Alaska, and Greenland. We spent maybe 10 to 15 to 30 days at these temporary duty air force bases,” he said.

He said the “JATO,” or jet-assisted take-off, was “something to behold.”

“The in-flight refueling from a KC97 was another thing that amazed me — how we would come up and back of a refueling plane and they would drop the ‘boom’ down toward the front of the plane and we would refuel in the air. That was sort of an adventure the first time it happened," he said.

Family life and volunteering

After being discharged from the Air Force after serving four years, Godbout returned home to help work at what was then a small wholesale heating and air conditioning business called BellSimons Companies that involved his family.

“I was in sales,” he said, adding he had helped out at the business from the time he was very young.

During this time, at one point, his brother invited him to go to a local dance. Bored, he was on his way out when he saw “this pretty good looking girl is walking in at the same time,” he said.

“I did an about-face and walked back in and I caught up to her,” he said.

He asked her to dance, and a year and a half later, he and the girl — Evelyn Godbout — were married.

The couple has five children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren — who all live nearby.

The family business continued to grow, and opened locations in Hartford, New Haven, and Springfield, Ma.

When the family was opening a location in Stamford, Godbout was asked to manage it. When he was looking for housing that was in commuting distance, he discovered the town of Ridgefield.

“Somebody told me to go look at this town,” Godbout said. “It's a small growing town with a lot of young people. And it was like about 20 miles from Ridgefield to Stamford.”

Godbout managed the Stamford store until the 1980s, and was then asked by his family to return to the Hartford store.

He decided to stay in Ridgefield and commute to Hartford.

Godbout, who retired in 2000, has volunteered with the town of Ridgefield for many decades. He has been active with the Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis Club.

He has also chaired a jazz concert featuring celebrity Benny Goodman to benefit the children's ward at Danbury Hospital, organized the Ridgefield’s 300th anniversary parade marching order and volunteers where needed at Founders Hall in town.

Memorial Day parade

For 15 years, he was in charge of the marching order for the town’s Memorial Day parade.

“You get all the different bands and you get all the different people who want to march in the parade and you put them into divisions,” he said. “It's quite a job putting it together, and then you have to coordinate and get everybody in the right area when it comes time for the parade to start. You have to make sure they are going at the right time, behind the same bands that they're assigned to.”

Godbout said he's honored to be selected grand marshal and follow in the ranks of prior grand marshals such as Bob Tulipani, Dave Campbell and Frank Lancaster.

“It's a very humble honor for me. Little did I know when I started working on the parade 15 years ago that a number of years later I would be grand marshal,” he said.

The parade will feature over 60 organizations marching down Main Street. There will be over 1,800 participants including numerous marching bands, veterans, emergency responders, sports teams, scouts, church groups and civic groups. Additionally, there will be thousands of spectators from all over Fairfield and Westchester counties.

Ridgefield’s American Legion Post 78, which selects the town’s grand marshals, has been organizing the parade since in 1921 but it was canceled for the last two years due to COVID-19.

“Everybody in town will be very happy to see the parade is back because it draws a huge crowd,” Godbout said. “It's one of the biggest things that happen in the town of Ridgefield every year.”