Remember our region’s veterans and their sacrifices
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month 100 years ago, the hostilities of World War I ended. Originally called Armistice Day, today is Veterans Day, our national holiday to honor U.S. veterans and casualties of all wars. Veterans Day is always Nov. 11, no matter what day of the week it falls.
There will be a number of commemorations around the region, as well as nationally, to honor this solemn 100th anniversary. Nationwide, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission has been working to organize “Bells of Peace: A World War I Remembrance.” The commission said in a recent news release that at exactly 11 a.m. local time, thousands of organizations, religious institutions, cities and individuals will take a moment from their daily activities to toll a bell 21 times in remembrance of the more than 100,000 American soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in WWI. The events are designed to honor the more than four million people who served during WWI and those who died.
According to the commission, women joined the U.S. armed forces for the first time in WWI, gaining the right to vote two years later. More than 350,000 African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants served with distinction. The U.S. experienced 375,000 casualties, far greater than in World War II, and 116,516 fatalities more than during the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
I have the pleasure of knowing many veterans. My father, father-in-law, and six uncles all served in WWII. My cousin was in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and my brother was a member of the Illinois National Guard. I have friends who have served in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. To them, I tip my hat in their honor on this special day.
This newspaper has a weekly Meet A Veteran series that I encourage you to read. The Bulletin has also done several features on the Danielson Veterans Coffeehouse.
Initially under the auspices of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action’s Retirement and Senior Volunteer Program, the Danielson Veterans Coffeehouse is now its own separate organization with nonprofit status. TVCCA has since helped initiate three more Veterans Coffeehouses in Norwich, Groton and Stonington. I am familiar with the Danielson Veterans Coffeehouse and I decided to reach out to Tom Pandolfi, who manages its activities, to see how things were going.
The coffeehouse has grown substantially in its 3.5 years of operation. Initially, they were getting about 20 veterans for each day of operation. Now, they get 70 to 80 in attendance every Tuesday morning. They also have an evening coffeehouse gathering on the first Tuesday of the month. There are four World War II veterans who usually attend, and one recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Along with a featured speaker, they bring the Veterans Administration in every other week to help with VA services, information and assist with any claims. Pandolfi told me they like to think of themselves as a one-stop shop to help local veterans. “There are 60,000 veterans in Northeast Connecticut, more than any other region of the state, yet most of the services are in Central Connecticut,” he said.
Their mission statement is: ″The Danielson Veterans Coffeehouse will provide a comfortable location for all veterans, both men and women of any age, to meet, socialize, communicate and provide and discuss information regarding veteran benefits and services through federal and state agencies and programs.”
To find out more about the Danielson Veterans Coffeehouse check out their website with list of events and activities at: https://dvcoffeehouse.com/.
I was the featured speaker on two occasions, and my experience there was hugely rewarding. It is an honor to be in the presence of veterans and to have the opportunity to share with them information about The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
As I set up my projector and put out my guides and print materials, I could hear them sharing stories and checking in with old friends. Humor and gentle ribbing bounced between tables, and, from what I could tell, the veterans representing the different branches of the military tended to sit together. One table was mostly Navy, the next Army, nearby were Marines. I can’t remember if Air Force or Coast Guard were represented, if they were, perhaps it was not discernible to me by hats or insignia.
Each veteran I spoke with had at some point departed our region to serve our country. They offered up their own lives to protect our freedom and liberty. Thankfully, those I met at the coffeehouse returned to our region to live productive and eventful lives here in The Last Green Valley. Their service is never forgotten.
I urge you to help celebrate Veterans Day by taking part in a local program or event. Check in with your local VFW or American Legion to see what ceremonies and events are being held in your town. Along with events organized by towns, VFWs and the American Legion, several area restaurants and businesses are honoring veterans with discounts on meals and products.
No matter how you spend the day, please remember the men and women who served in our country’s military deserve our respect and honor. If by chance this morning you hear the “Bells of Peace” tolling 21 times at 11 a.m., please remember it is the 100th anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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