'Lest we forget:' Oaklawn dedicates memorial to military veterans
Published 2:05 pm, Saturday, May 17, 2014
America's veterans were honored Saturday at Oak Lawn Cemetery through the dedication of a granite memorial that pays tribute to those who served in the nation's armed forces.
Bill Allen, a member of Oak Lawn's board of directors, said the Bronson Road cemetery serves as the final resting place for more than 1,200 military veterans, beginning with the Civil War. He said 704 of those buried served in World War II, including Michael Daly, who was presented the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.
"We dedicate this memorial today not just to them, but to all those men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States of America to keep us a free and great nation," Allen said.
John T. Johnson of Fairfield, who served on the crew of a B-24 bomber during World War II, was among about 75 people in the audience, and Allen said Johnson, 93, had handled the guns in the ball turret of an airplane named "Lonesome" during 50 missions over Europe at the height of the war in 1943 and 1944. "This had to be one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments aboard the aircraft, a job that no one wanted," Allen said. "For those of you who may be unaware, the ball turret is suspended from the under belly of the plane and thus very vulnerable to enemy attack and a potential catastrophe on bad landings."
"Because of its confined space, these gunners could not wear a parachute and many of them suffered from frostbite flying at high altitudes," Allen said. "It is an honor to have Sgt. Johnson and all of his fellow veterans here with us today and we applaud each of you."
Betty Wolak, Johnson's daughter, was pleased by Oak Lawn's new memorial, and Stella Capiris of Westport, a good friend of Johnson's family, said the memorial is "a fitting tribute, especially to someone like Mr. Johnson, who dedicated his life to his country and still cares deeply."
"It's a beautiful day, a beautiful service. You can't ask for anything nicer on Armed Forces Day," Capiris said.
"We are their friends, their families, their co-workers and their neighbors," Felner said. He said it is important that every veteran feels appreciated for his or her service and there are many ways to acknowledge their sacrifices. "The simplest way is to say, `Thank you for what you have done for our country'," the fire chief said.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who laid a wreath by the memorial, said residents of Fairfield, which was settled in 1639, have fought in every one of the nation's wars. He said the memorial helps people remember the sacrifices and service of veterans, as well as those currently serving in the armed forces.
"Thank you for letting Fairfield have another monument for those who have sacrificed for our freedoms and for our town," Tetreau said.
Town Clerk Betsy Browne read "In Flanders Fields," a war poem written during World War I, and honor guards from the Police and Fire departments took part in the ceremony, along with Boy Scouts from Troop 88 and a firing squad from Lt. Owen Fish Memorial Post 143 of the American Legion.
Oak Lawn's memorial consists of a granite slab in which is carved an American flag and eagle. Underneath the flag and eagle are the inscribed words: "Lest we forget. This memorial is dedicated to all who served in the armed forces of the United States of America to keep us a free and great nation." Granite benches are on either side of the slab and steps lead up to it.
Bronson K. Hawley, president of Oak Lawn Cemetery Association's board of directors, said the idea for the memorial began about two years ago and that Allen did research of memorials in other towns to get an idea of what Oak Lawn's memorial might look like. All of the granite was quarried in Barre, Vt., and Brown's Monument Works in Monroe assembled the memorial, Hawley said.
The grounds crew at Oak Lawn Cemetery did all of the excavation and grading for the memorial and Oliver Nurseries on Bronson Road did the landscaping, Hawley said. "They decided, `Let's embrace the monument.' It's a very simple landscaping that embraces the monument and draws your eyes to it," he said. Gino Vona of Fairfield, a stone mason, built the stone wall behind the memorial, Hawley said. "He donated a lot of time to it," he said.
Marilyn Gottwald, Oak Lawn's office administrator, is compiling a list of all the veterans buried in the cemetery, Hawley said. He said the list, which will include the wars that the veterans served in, will be available later this year.
"We were very, very pleased," Hawley said of the completed memorial. "It means so much to us."