Veterans from many generations gather for centennial celebration
GREENWICH — Greenwich Avenue was filled with local veterans Sunday morning, as some 200 people assembled to pay special tribute to the sacrifices of World War I servicemen and servicewomen on the centennial of the war’s end.
“It was 100 years ago this very day that an armistice was signed, putting an end to a horrific, bloody struggle,” said Peter LeBeau, commander of American Legion Post 29. The conflict is little remembered today, he said, but the contributions and sacrifices made by Americans who fought in the closing months of the war in 1917 and 1918 should be preserved in public memory.
“Most of our schoolchildren today know little about World War I. Many history text books make no mention of Vietnam — a war I fought in, and tore our country apart,” said LeBeau, speaking at the World War I monument off Greenwich Avenue as part of the celebration of Veterans Day in Greenwich. “Do we not owe it to our children to let them know what it cost, the blessings of freedom we enjoy today?”
LeBeau paid tribute to a Greenwich resident who was killed in the Great War, Col. Raynal Bolling, who is commemorated with a statue near the World War I monument. Calling him one of Greenwich’s “most accomplished, humble and revered residents,” LeBeau said, “I would ask you today to think of Colonel Bolling, and people like him, who gave up everything for their country.”
Bolling was a pioneering figure in military aviation, and the first high-ranking American officer to be killed in combat in World War I, in March 1918 during a German offensive.
A bagpiper and a drummer led the procession of old cars, motorcycles and a police color guard in a parade down Greenwich Avenue.
Veterans said the day held special significance for them. Elderly soldiers from World War II were part of the procession, as well as veterans from more recent conflicts.
Vietnam veteran Mike Zygmont of Glenville was upholding an annual tradition — hauling out a pair of jungle boots he wore in service in Southeast Asia: “52-year boots,” he said, looking down at his footwear.
“I wear them sparingly,” he said. “The soles are a little hard, but they served me well.” He said he liked connecting with other veterans at commemorations like the one held Sunday on Greenwich Avenue.
Fred Cofone, another veteran from Old Greenwich, said the Veterans Day observations served a useful purpose. “What the veterans have done for our country, a lot of people forget,” he said. Events like the Greenwich Memorial Day parade also provide some recognition and public awareness, he said.
Paul Bergagna was one of the younger veterans out on the Avenue. He served in the Air Force and was deployed to Saudi Arabia.
“My father served, I served, it’s a great honor,” said Bergagna, who recently moved to Greenwich from New York City. He said it was a pleasure to be among other veterans, if only for a day.
“It’s nice to be around like-minded people. And so many great stories,” he said, “A lot of people are removed for the real world — so many have sacrificed so we can have freedom and enjoy our lives. It’s good to remember that.”
Veterans are the foundation for preserving “out inalienable rights,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said. Tesei placed a wreath at the base of the World War I memorial at the conclusion of the ceremony, following a volley of rifle fire and a rendition of “Taps” by two Greenwich High School students.