Some soldiers don’t come home from the battlefields.
It was a notion that several speakers touched upon at the conclusion of Ridgefield’s annual Memorial Day parade.
“My brother told my sister, ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming back,’ when he left for Italy,” said World War II veteran Wally Goodman, the parade’s grand marshal.
He said his brother was a bombardier and at the time there was “such a high rate” of being killed in action.
“He went up on his third mission and his plane was never found,” Goodman said. “ ... I’ve always thought it was at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea and that’s why I wear this gold model plane button on my hat. There’s a lot of pilots and bombers who never made it home.”
Goodman spoke to a crowd of more than 150 people gathered in Ballard Park on the sunny Monday afternoon, just hours after the annual parade, which thousands attended.
He talked about two other pins and buttons that he wears on his Veterans of Foreign Wars hat.
“This red and gold pin represents the U.S. Navy Amphibious Forces,” Goodman said. “And this button here represents veterans who fought in the Pacific theater.”
Goodman, a Navy veteran who enlisted in 1942 and landed in the Pacific theater in June of that year, spoke about the invasions of Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
“The last big operation in the Pacific theater was taking Okinawa,” he said. “It was a big island with a massive airfield.”
Goodman recalled working on a small patrol boat during Okinawa when he spotted a kamikaze pilot coming down out of the sky.
“The Japanese had lost the war. They knew it, we knew it,” he said. “Their pilots had attended their own funerals before they took off ... I saw four airplanes above us and one got lower and lower before it took a nose dive in between our two ships.
“The reason why I selected to tell this story is because I could see the pilot of that plane — his eyes were closed,” Goodman said. “He knew he was going to hit the water and he didn’t want to hit anything else. He knew it was pointless to keep killing us.”
Goodman said he still thinks about the pilot, and at one point had called the Japanese consulate in New York to see if he could find his name.
“They didn’t want to get involved,” Goodman told the crowd. “I would love to know where his family is and if they knew what he did.”
George Besse, commander of the American Legion Post 78 in Ridgefield, asked the crowd to give one more “great hand for this great man from the greatest generation” once Goodman had concluded his speech to a standing ovation.
“We want to honor our veterans,” Besse added, “but it’s also important to remember that today is about those who lost their lives serving this great country and the sacrifice they made.”
During his introduction speech, Besse said Memorial Day is a reminder for people “to take a moment and reflect on military sacrifice.”
“We must keep them in our hearts and in our prayers today and every day,” he said.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi, son of a World War II veteran and grandson of a World War I veteran, also addressed the crowd, reading from a speech written by Ridgefield High School intern Nick Clavi.
He spoke about the 100 year anniversary of World War I and how America “jumped into fight with its allies.”
“We witnessed the horrors of trench warfare,” he said.
Marconi also talked about the invasion of Normandy in World War II.
“Once again we were united against two common enemies, and witnessed horrendous casualties,” he said. “We liberated that beachhead and went on to liberate the rest of France.”
The first selectmen called on the crowd to remember the service of men who fought in Korea and Vietnam.
“The question always comes back to, ‘why fight?’’” he asked. “It’s a sense of duty to a nation that has blessed them with so much. ...These are soldiers who left behind their families with the chance that they would never see them again. ... We must continue on making special tribute to those have given the ultimate sacrifice.”