The sacrifice of American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, France, was recalled Saturday morning by Joe Lebinski, a past commander of American Legion Post 74, during Fairfield's annual Veterans Day ceremony on Town Hall Green.
Lebinski said he recently visited the beaches where American soldiers came ashore under fire from German troops and scaled the bluffs in one of the famous battles of World War II. Before going to the beaches, Lebinski said he spent the morning in a museum in the village of Caen, which has photographs and stories of soldiers who made the landing on D-Day.
"After boarding a bus, we then went to the actual beaches. Arriving, we could see a stretch of beach and people playing on them. What a difference from what we had seen at the museum and what was happening there now," Lebinski said. "It was hard to imagine the destruction of that day when the landings took place, but remembering what we had seen at the museum brought it back quickly."
Lebinski saw Pointe du Hoc, a clifftop on the coast of Normandy where German soldiers fired upon American troops as the Americans came ashore and scaled the cliffs. "The destruction of the bunkers does not tell the whole story; the bomb craters tell some. But the heroics of those who climbed the heights tell the story very clearly," he said. "If it wasn't for those who climbed the heights that day, it may have been a much bloodier day than it was."
"Once again, the American soldier past and present came through, getting it done," he said.
The final place that Lebinski visited was a cemetery, a short distance from the beaches, where Americans who died that day are buried. "When one enters this sacred ground, it's very quiet -- no one speaks loudly, and there is a hush silence all around," he said. "The first thing you see is the wall of names of those who are missing, after the landings were made, and have never been found. Over a thousand names line the wall."
Lebinski said the cemetery has more than 9,700 white crosses in rows that mark the graves of soldiers who died on the beaches June 6, 1944. "This is only one of the American cemeteries, of which there are many," he said. "For those who took part in that day, this country must never forget to honor their memory, and to all the others who gave their all in the past, or present, and in the future."
"Maybe someday there will be peace in the world, with no war. We can only hope and pray this may happen someday," Lebinski said.
Selectman Kevin Kiley, who represented the town's Board of Selectmen at the ceremony, said, "Today is the day we honor every member of America's military for their bravery and service to our great country. We want to thank our veterans for protecting our country and defending our freedom."
"Without your courage and service, our great country would not be possible and the course of history would be much different. You have successfully defended America and safeguarded the world many times over," Kiley said. "We are proud of every veteran and we honor you every day of the year."
About three dozen people -- veterans, town officials and residents -- attended the ceremony in front of the town's Honor Roll, which lists the names of Fairfield residents who served in the nation's wars.
After the brief ceremony, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution offered food and beverages in the Old Academy building a short walk away, and members of the town's oldest Boy Scout troop greeted veterans, town officials and residents as they entered the former schoolhouse.
Chris Westervelt, a member of Troop 10 from First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, held a sign thanking the veterans and said Veterans Day was "a time to remember what happened during the war and how to respect the veterans and people in battle at the moment." "It's important because it's the right thing to do, and it's very respectful too," he said.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, said, "Each of us is here because we do have such tremendous respect for those who protected us and kept our families safe."
"I always have such a deep sense of gratitude for them, for the opportunity to live in a free place, speak our minds, have opinions and express them in a free place," Kupchick said. "If they didn't stand up and have the courage to fight to give us this freedom, we wouldn't have it. They went and fought in areas of this world they had never been to and fought for our freedoms."
"We believe our determination made us better warriors because we fought with our minds and our hearts as well as our bodies," Bender said.
State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said the town went through a rough time over the past two weeks because of Storm Sandy and a snowy nor'easter, but added that American soldiers serving abroad "lived and worked and protected us in conditions that are far, far worse than what we had to endure."
"They deserve our respect and our attention and our care every day," he said.
Referencing the future, Bender said veterans learned of purpose, sacrifice, tolerance, bravery and discipline from their blood and sweat and those "are solid foundation stones upon which a great nation is built."
"In our continuing quest for an honorable world peace, we must cultivate these virtues," he said.