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Town Council Focuses on Veterans

Memorial Day celebrations this year will have a special focus on World War II veterans.

Tuesday night’s meeting of the West Hartford Town Council was relatively brief, without controversial issues on the agenda. Appropriately, council members were therefore able to focus on a very important upcoming event – Memorial Day.

West Hartford resident Moe Fredette updated the council on the status of a resolution that was adopted on Jan. 11, dedicating the 2011 Memorial Day Parade to World War II veterans. Fredette reported that approximately 650 letters had been sent out to World War II veterans from West Hartford, and he had personally made many follow up calls to invite them to participate in the 2011 festivities.

“The experience was just tremendous talking to these people,” said Fredette, who also worked to document the information from the conversations. To date, more than 50 World War II veterans from West Hartford have committed to riding in this year’s Memorial Day Parade.

Fredette presented the council with a summary of planned Memorial Day activities, which include a World War II film series at the , free rounds of golf (including cart) for World War II veterans at the , and “War Bond” sales as a fundraiser.

On Friday, May 27, the “” dance will be held in the West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium. The 18-piece Steve Lord Band will entertain guests with Big Band era music. “So far, 80 World War II veterans and their guests will be attending,” said Fredette.

The “Shop-Dine-Stroll” banners on light poles throughout West Hartford Center have also been temporarily replaced, according to Fredette. “West Hartford Honors its World War II Veterans” banners, complete with replicas of vintage posters, hang from the poles in celebration of Memorial Day.

On Saturday, May 28, at 9 a.m., people are invited to plant flags on the graves of veterans in . “We’re up to 32 years now that my father, Jean-Paul Berard, has been organizing the placement of flags at the cemetery,” said council member Denise Berard Hall during the “Announcements” portion of the meeting.

A reception at the Parish Center follows the flag planting. A full description and schedule of events, the capstone of which is the annual Memorial Day Parade beginning at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 30, can be found at www.westhartfordveterans.com.

Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Peggy Gray also addressed the Town Council, and said, “The parade is all about our World War II veterans this year.” She described the updated program for the parade, which will include a group of students leading the veterans who will be riding in convertibles. A U.S. Army band will accompany the group of veterans, playing appropriate march music.

Several other people were introduced to the Town Council, recipients of special Memorial Day bows as part of the “Show the Bow” program organized by Charter Oak teacher and West Hartford resident Janet Fournier.

World War II veteran Americo “Rico” Pace, this year’s Grand Marshall and a D-Day survivor, received a bow. Leesa Philippon, a Gold Star Mother who lost her son in Iraq in 2005, Korean War veteran Thomas Brett, and Vietnam War veteran John Eselunas also received bows, as did Mayor Scott Slifka.

In other veteran-related action, historians Martha and Karl Fransson were invited to speak to the council about a resolution concerning the African American Revolutionary War Patriots of West Hartford and the proposed National Liberty Memorial. Initial information that was provided indicated that there was only one African American veteran from West Hartford. However, confusion arose because the former slave of Thomas Hart Hooker, Bristow, for whom was named, was thought to also have been a West Hartford veteran.

Martha Fransson presented the results of her research, which indicated that despite the fact that the documents liberating Bristow were filed in Farmington, Bristow was actually a West Hartford resident. However, as respects his veteran status, Fransson said that her research showed, “Clearly he was not in the army … he probably did not know how to use a gun, and would not have wanted to do anything to jeopardize his new freedom.”

Mayor Scott Slifka, thanking the Fransson’s for their extensive research into Bristow’s residency, said he was “thrilled that Bristow has been recognized.”

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