Veterans’ Life Stories Important to Remember

Saturday is Veterans Day, our national holiday to honor veterans of all wars.

Originally called Armistice Day, the day marks the end of hostilities in World War I, which occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Veterans Day is always Nov. 11, no matter what day of the week it falls.

In advance of Veterans Day, I usually dedicate this column to writing about one or more of our region’s veterans. Their life stories are important to remember, and today I want to share with you one of our region’s most distinguished veterans – Admiral Wilson Brown Jr.

Brown was brought to my attention by Melodye Whatley, author of the fascinating book “Stories from Yantic Cemetery.” Whatley is a local genealogist and recently conducted tours of Norwich’s Yantic Cemetery and Brooklyn’s South Cemetery for The Last Green Valley’s 2017 Walktober program.

Brown traveled the world during his 43-year career in the U.S. Navy, however, his final resting place is in Yantic Cemetery.

Brown was born April 27, 1882 in Philadelphia. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1902, beginning his distinguished service until his retirement with the rank of vice admiral in 1945. He served in both World War I and World War II, receiving the Navy Cross and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

During World War I, Brown was on the staff of Admiral William Sims in London and held command of the USS Parker. After the war, he completed the Naval War College course and earned the rank of commander. He served as executive officer of the battleship Colorado, prior to becoming naval aide to both President Calvin Coolidge and President Herbert Hoover.

After his service to both presidents, Wilson was appointed commander of U.S. Submarine Base New London in 1929, and in 1932 was promoted to captain of the battleship California.

He returned to the Naval War College as chief of staff in 1934, achieved the rank of rear admiral in 1936 and in 1938 became superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1941, he assumed the duty of commander of the Scouting Force in the Pacific with the rank of vice admiral. In 1942, at the age of 60, he became one of the oldest naval officers to serve in combat during World War II.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he took command of Task Force 11 based around the aircraft carrier Lexington. This force was important in several carrier-based raids in the Pacific.

His deteriorating health brought him back to Pearl Harbor, where he was appointed commander of amphibious forces in the Pacific and then he was reposted to Boston as commander of the 1st Naval District.

Beginning in early 1943, Brown served as naval aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and retired from active military duty in late 1944 with the rank of vice admiral. He remained as naval adviser to Roosevelt and then to President Harry S. Truman until the end of the war. He retired to Waterford in 1945 where he lived until his death at New Haven Naval Hospital on Jan. 2, 1957.

Hearing of his death, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:

“I was saddened to read in the paper of Vice Admiral Wilson Brown’s death. He was with my husband for a long time and my husband was very fond of him.”

I had the pleasure of visiting Mrs. Brown and the admiral some years ago in Waterford. He certainly had an active and interesting career and was highly valued by everyone with whom he served.

It must be a consolation when the evening of life draws near to look back on so many accomplishments, and I know Brown enjoyed his home in Waterford and was a valued member of that community.

As we look to Nov. 11, I hope you’ll join me to celebrate and remember all our nation’s veterans. So many men and women left our region to serve our nation at a time of need. Many are here amongst us today, living their lives as important members of our communities. Some, like Brown, have found their final resting place here in The Last Green Valley.

Information for this column was gleaned from the Pacific War Online Encyclopedia and other sources.

Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 30 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org