Spotlight on women
GREENWICH — As the echo of a gun salute faded over Long Island Sound, the crowd of 200 gathered for the annual Memorial Day dockside ceremony at Indian Harbor Yacht Club listened as Greenwich High School students Chris Fiore and Nathan King played “Taps” on their bugles.
Peter Le Beau, commander of Greenwich’s American Legion Post 29 and master of ceremonies at the Monday morning event, decided this year’s ceremony should place a spotlight on a sometimes underappreciated group of Americans who have shown bravery and sacrifice in serving their country.
“Far too little attention has been paid to the sacrifices and contributions made by many millions of selfless women in the war effort,” said Le Beau, illuminating a history that dates to the Revolutionary War and includes those who served in combat and tended to the wounded on battlefields, plus “the countless legions of wives, mothers and sisters that built our warships, fighter planes and tanks” in World War II.
“Their unselfish dedication was, to say the very least, critical to achieving our ultimate victory,” Le Beau said. “They gave so much and (did it) time and time again. In a very real sense, what they did was as meaningful as the bloodshed in combat by our boys.”
The ceremony honored two women who served their country. Greenwich resident Winona Mullis, 95, spoke about her time volunteering for the U.S. Navy in 1943 and working for IBM, training as a codebreaker in partnership with the military during World War II. She became one of the group known as WAVES, “women accepted for volunteer emergency service,” out of a sense of patriotism and a desire to serve her country.
“The many experiences I had and the opportunity and training that I was given really helped prepare me for the work that I chose to do as my life skill, which was teaching and serving others,” Mullis said.
A former member of the Representative Town Meeting and Republican Town Committee, she marveled at how many people she hadn’t seen in years came up to say hello and thank her after the ceremony.
“It certainly was a pleasure to be chosen,” Mullis said afterward. “I’m really overwhelmed. I can hardly breathe or find the words, which is unusual for me because I’m a talker.”
First Selectman Peter Tesei was among those who congratulated Mullis, whom he called “a dear family friend.”
“She is someone who exemplifies the very best not only in our community but in our country,” Tesei said.
The ceremony also recognized retired Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy of the U.S. Air Force. Cassidy worked as a public affairs officer and did two tours in the Middle East, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq. She spoke of the bravery of the women she served with, including the quick action of one female National Guard member who stopped a person later identified as a terrorist from embedding with the media, and an Air Force pilot who landed her damaged plane after enemy fire had damaged its brakes.
She revealed her advice younger airmen of what to say when someone thanks them for their service.
“I tell them that you could say, ‘You’re welcome,’ but what I say is, ‘It truly was my pleasure,’ because it was my pleasure to serve,” Cassidy said.
In closing her remarks, she had some advice for those gathered that she presented as a challenge.
“I’d like you to do three things this Memorial Day,” Cassidy said. “No. 1, if you’re a vet, share a memory. For the rest of us on this day, take a moment and honor a memory. And for all of us, go out and make a memory.”
The dockside ceremony was followed by several other tributes and events in town on Monday. The annual Sound Beach Volunteer Fire Department parade marched down Sound Beach Avenue in Old Greenwich shortly afterward, and tributes were held in Byram, with a memorial at the monument on McKinney Terrace’s grounds, and in Chickahominy, with a memorial ceremony in Hamilton Avenue Veterans Park.
Monday’s events were a centerpiece of the long weekend of tributes, including a Cos Cob VFW Post 10112 event at its monument and parades in Byram and Glenville.
At Monday’s dockside ceremony, several speakers made sure to remind the crowd of the purpose of Memorial Day events — to honor those who paid with their lives in service to the country.
“They paid the way a world that is much safer and finer than it might otherwise be,” the Rev. Marek Zabriskie from Christ Church said as he delivered the invocation.
The town not only gave “extreme thanks and gratitude for the lives of those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Tesei said later, but also had “enormous appreciation” for their families and loved ones as well.