Ceremony honors vets ‘rarely spoken of’
GREENWICH — Under blue skies, sun and a light breeze, the members of Cos Cob Veterans of Foreign Wars gathered with the community Saturday morning to pay tribute to the sacrifices of those who gave their lives on ground, on sea and in air.
Memorial Day is a time to honor the war dead. But, during a brief ceremony by the VFW Post 10112’s memorial on Strickland Road, Post Adjunct Bill Cameron focused on those who served in combat and endured mental and emotional injuries, not necessarily physical ones.
He said those veterans were “rarely spoken of” and in a “sort of Twilight Zone for combat veterans.”
“They are the unfortunate men and women who have died in combat but are still walking around today,” Cameron said.
He spoke about a friend of his named Bill Maloney, a retired Marine colonel who had received a battlefield commission at Iwo Jima and also served in Korea. Cameron said he would visit Maloney in Cape Cod for fishing and duck hunting and that once a week at his home Maloney would host a coffee klatch for friends, most of whom were ex-military.
One week, Cameron said Maloney invited him to the klatch and once there he introduced him to a man sitting alone and downcast in the kitchen. The man had to use both hands to hold his coffee cup and when introduced he did not shake Cameron’s hand and barely glanced up.
“The story that Bill told me shook me to my very core and still does today,” Cameron said as he explained that this man was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis.
The Portland class heavy cruiser had been on a top secret mission in 1945, delivering pieces used to build the atomic bomb, when on its return it was sunk by a Japanese submarine torpedo in the Pacific Ocean. The ship went down in 12 minutes with 300 sailors still on it. While 800 were able to get life jackets and abandon ship they were left in shark-infested waters for five days before help finally arrived.
Of the 800 men who made it into the water, only 316 survived with hundreds perishing due to injuries from the explosion, exhaustion or the sharks. Maloney’s friend at the coffee klatch had been one of those survivors, Cameron recalled.
“Bill believed that a part of his friend died in that blood-soaked ocean and that he never fully recovered,” Cameron said. “He could only hold a job where he was allowed to work alone.”
There were many others like him. Cameron recalled how Maloney introduced him to another one of his friends who had been in fierce combat in Korea and after his service spent almost all of his life in a Massachusetts VA hospital for depression and alcoholism. His service had left him unable to function in society, Cameron said.
“On this Memorial Day weekend when you remember our fallen heroes, please say a prayer for those who are forever scarred by war that they may be relieved of their inner pain and finally experience peace of mind,” Cameron said.
The VFW post gathers by the monument every Memorial Day and Veterans Day to pay tribute.
Attendance for the ceremony has been growing in recent years. Last year brought about 40 people to the memorial in the small park across the street from the Bush Holley House; on Saturday that number increased to close to 50. The crowd included U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, a town resident, and Selectman John Toner, Chief of Police James Heavey and state Reps. Livvy Floren, R-149, Stephen Meskers, D-150, and Fred Camillo, R-151.
Town Board of Estimate and Taxation member Michael Mason, who like Camillo is a Republican candidate for first selectman, also attended and brought with him a fully restored Willys MB Army jeep that was originally built in 1944 as a radio jeep for use in World War II but never left the country.
Cameron noted the growing crowds during his remarks, saying he was seeing new faces every time Post 10112 did the ceremonies and that it was “heartwarming” to see more people turn out.