Updated, 1:21 p.m. Oct 29, comment from Karen Doyle Lyons
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s veterans have been on the mind of local politicians as the Nov. 5 election draws near.
Last week, the Republican-led Common Council passed a non-binding resolution to urge the state legislature to reverse a decision involving the American Legion and administration of the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Fund. On Sunday, Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling promised to respond to the frustrated pleas of a Vietnam veteran and update the panels that line the entrance of City Hall to honor and memorialize Norwalk veterans.
David Cole, who retired as a lieutenant colonel after serving in the Army from 1953 to 1973, said Sunday that the Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee (NVMC) has approached city officials to update the latest addendum to those bronze plaques, without result.
Cole met Rilling for a press conference Sunday, where Rilling promised that he would work to make the updates if he is elected mayor.
The “addendum,” a plaque that was meant to give space for the additional names, was added to the display on Nov. 11, 2005, Veterans Day.
“There has been no effort made by the city of Norwalk since that time to add the names of the young men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan or those who have served before then and who may have slipped through the cracks,” Cole said. “I remember here in 2005 we added 11 World War II guys who had slipped through the cracks over the years. I’m sure there might be a few from past conflicts. In addition to the young men and women who have served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the name of one — David Fahey, he was killed — his name is not yet on this wall. That’s an injustice.”
“I think its’ really important to bring out this information,” Rilling said. “I want David and the other veterans to know that I fully support updating by adding the most recent addendum and having the Veterans Memorial Committee start working on soliciting the names of people who may not be included because they fell through the cracks, or other people who may have since served since 2005 and are not yet recognized. I think it’s a tribute that we need to pay to the young men and women who are voluntarily going overseas to protect our nation, to protect our liberties, and not to have them recognized in the same way that the other brave men and women are is, as I said, a total injustice.”
Neither man knew how much that would cost – Cole guessed maybe $1,000 – but Rilling said that there are many private companies and foundations that would be willing to donate the money.
NVMC secretary Karen Doyle Lyons said Tuesday that she did not know how much a new plaque would cost. Two names were recently added to the Shea-Magrath Memorial at Calf Pasture Beach at a cost of $1,200, she said.
“Mr. Cole is a veteran but not a member of the Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee,” she said in an email. “I am not sure what he is talking about. I have been collecting veterans DD2-14’s to eventually have a plaque done which is a long process.”
Cole is a past member of the NVMC, she said.
Last Tuesday’s council meeting featured a surprise addition to the agenda, a resolution in support of returning administrative responsibility of the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Fund, with adequate resources, to the American Legion. The fund was established by the General Assembly in 1919 and is now valued at $64 million, according to the resolution, though Connecticut stopped putting tax-derived public money into it in 1962.
Gov. Dannel Malloy initially proposed that the state give the Legion complete control of the fund, but the state is now trying to fund the Legion less than a quarter of what the state’s administrative costs had been, the resolution sponsored by council members and veteran Carvin Hilliard (D-District B) and David McCarthy (R-District E) said.
Several veterans and one veterans advocate spoke in favor of the resolution.
“Basically, I guess what the state wants to do is put it into the general fund,” said Leo Motyka, an Army veteran. “I think we all know what happens when it goes into the general fund. It suddenly has wings and disappears.”
Others spoke in more harsh terms.
“I think it particularly galling that we have state representatives that have so little grasp of leadership, besides having so little grasp of integrity, to penalize veterans at this point,” Mark Albertson said.
“It really breaks my heart that there was one legislator from Norwalk that voted against the veterans to take this money away from them,” Karen Doyle Lyons said. “I will hold Bob Duff to the floor on it.”
Incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia offered words of hope to the veterans.
“Certainly I can understand the concerns of the Legion, the concerns of the state,” he said. “We know the state has difficult financial times, other options available to them. I am hopeful that in the next session coming up that they may take a second look at this. … It may be that some of the legislators, when they go into the next session, might introduce a bill to undo that.”
Duff said that is what is planned.
“The section regarding the SSMF was one of many sections in a large, 500-page bill, which included more funding for Norwalk’s schools among other things,” he said in an email. “It was acted on during the last day of the legislative session. I’ve always supported the SSMF and indicated long ago that I wanted to fix this.”
The resolution was co-sponsored by council members Doug Hempstead (R-at Large), Michelle Maggio (R-District C), Jerry Petrini (R-District D), Bruce Kimmel (D-at Large), Sarah Mann (R-District C) and Michael Geake (D-District B), all of whom are seeking re-election. It passed unanimously, but not before some minor protests.
Council members Nick Kydes (R-District C) and Fred Bondi (R-at Large) said they had not had the opportunity to co-sponsor it.
“I feel real disappointed that my name was not listed as a co-sponsor,” Bondi said. “I was not even notified by my caucus that they were doing this.”
McCarthy, who is seeking re-election, said the resolution was sponsored by everyone who attended a recent veterans event at the Legion. It went through the Ordinance Committee and then an email was sent out to everyone, he said.
“I don’ think it was a slight,” Moccia said. “… no problem adding your name as a sponsor.”
Hilliard, who is not seeking re-election, said he knew of veterans who have gotten help from the fund.
“This fund is needed here as opposed to being under state control,” he said. “It’s locally controlled and I think the American Legion can do a better job of dispensing the funds than the state can.”
“We always forget the sacrifices that the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, all of the armed forces, provide for us,” Kydes said. “The sacrifices that they go through so that we may live our life in freedom … This is the least we can do.”
The Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee is holding its annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, in Concert Hall, beginning with a 9:30 a.m. concert, followed by a 10:30 a.m. ceremony and a moment of silence at 11 a.m.
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