Memorial Day parade marchers honor military sacrifice

Residents of Ridgefield lined up along the sides of Main Street to watch the Memorial Day parade for the first time since 2015 on Monday.

The parade marchers, and attendees, paid respects to all those who have given their lives to the country’s armed services.

The parade started around 11:30 and ran to 12:30.

Dave Campbell, a Navy veteran who flew in the Vietnam War, was the grand marshal.

A Ridgefield Police color guard led the parade. Honored military veterans marched in front of brass bands (playing “proud and loud”), drum corps and bagpipers, floats and fire trucks, Scouts, sports teams and baton twirlers. The total number of marchers was estimated at 2,000. Both sides of Main Street were lined with people out to see the parade — some waving flags, many dressed in red, white and blue.

Flying over the parade in a C-130 Hercules was Air Force veteran and Air National Guard member Brian Hebert.

Hebert, son of Selectman Bob Hebert, grew up in Ridgefield and attended Farmingville Elementary School and East Ridge Middle School before graduating from Fairfield Prep.

He attended Villanova University in the mid-1990s and joined the school’s ROTC program.

“He got bit by the flying bug at 5 or 6 [years old] when he first sat in the small recreational plane I used to fly around,” Bob Hebert recalled. “He always loved airplanes from then on.”

Brian, who now works for the Department of Homeland Security as a damage assessment pilot, has flown over the Memorial Day parade in Ridgefield for the last dozen or so years.

“It always brings me a tremendous sense of pride knowing he’s up in the skies, and the sacrifice that requires,” said Bob, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

“Watching him fly over Ridgefield — it’s hard to describe,” he added. “Your heart is just full of pride.”

On Monday, Brian was a bit delayed out of Hartford, home to Connecticut’s Air National Guard.

“The Air National Guard has two planes go up and they split the entire state,” Bob explained.

The pilot managed to still make it to his hometown on time.

“The two pilots each cover about 60 to 70 towns,” his father said. “Brian requests to do Ridgefield and the parade organizers schedule him in for a 15-minute window.”

Brian’s dad marched with the other members of the Board of Selectmen and Congressman Jim Himes. Other politicians in the parade included State Rep. John Frey and State Senator Toni Boucher.

The parade’s closing ceremony at Ballard Park featured speeches and patriotic music — including the Ridgefield High School marching band’s medley of the spirit songs of the different branches of the military service.

“This Memorial Day is kind of a special one,” said American Legion Commander George Besse. “We’re commemorating the 100 the anniversary of World War I.” He spoke of the generations “fighting to defend our country from oppression, tyranny and terrorism” and their sacrifices — sometimes of their very lives.

“They gave all they had to give,” Besse said.

He introduced vocalist Evelyn Carr, who sang The Star Spangled Banner.

John Esposito, chaplin of the Marine Corps League, gave a prayer, quoting Isaiah: “I heard the Lord say ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said: ‘Here I am. Send me.’”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi gracefully credited his speech to his two student interns, Tom and Jack.

“Our fallen servicemen and women may be gone from our lives, but they will never be forgotten,” Marconi said.

Dino Calabro, chaplin of Veterans of Foreign Wars post, prayed: “Bless, oh God, the thousands of disabled veterans in hospitals, and also the homeless vets in our land … Ease their pain.”

And he said, “Grant that we may yet see the day when war and fear of war shall no longer be.”

Grand Marshal Dave Campbell was the main speaker. “Memorial Day is always a day of speeches and flag waving and family gatherings,” he said, but it has a serious purpose.

“We gather to remember, to honor, to commemorate those individuals in the military, both men and women, who laid down their lives,” Campbell said.

“Many were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times…

“What greater act is there than for an individual to sacrifice their lives for their fellow Americans?

“God bless the U.S.A. God bless Ridgefield, Connecticut,” Campbell said.

“Thank you for being here today,” he told the crowd.”Have a great Norman Rockwell day, and continue to honor our veterans.”

A closing prayer from John Gillaugh, chaplain of American Legion Post 78, asked remembrance of the many who sacrificed for the nation.

“Let us remember them as good soldiers, who fought in a just cause,” he said.

Commander Besse ended the ceremony by asking those gathered to join Carr in singing God Bless America.