Norwich will hold grand ceremonies Sunday to mark 100th anniversary of Armistice Day
Norwich — Sunday will be no ordinary Veterans Day in Norwich, as several color guards, including the prestigious Navy Silver Dolphins, music, keynote speakers and family of local soldiers killed in the Great War that ended 100 years ago Sunday.
Three events, all free and open to the public, will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of World War I.
A ceremony at 11 a.m. — the war officially ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 — will be held at Memorial Park in Taftville at the corner of South Second Avenue and South B Street, hosted by American Legion Post 104 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2212, both of Taftville. Guest speakers will be U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom. The rain location will be the American Legion Post 104, 22 Merchants Ave., Taftville.
A committee of local veterans, city Historian Dale Plummer, Nystrom, former State Troubadour Tom Callinan and others have planned a much larger event at 1 p.m. on Chelsea Parade that will mark not only the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day but also the 100th anniversary of women in the military. The rain location would be the Kelly Middle School auditorium, 25 Mahan Drive.
The program includes a parade of at least six color guards from veterans’ groups from throughout the region, led by the Silver Dolphins Color Guard and its precision drill team, which will perform following welcoming remarks by John Waggoner, president of the Norwich Area Veterans’ Council.
Callinan, who lives in Norwich, at various intervals in the ceremony will perform four songs he wrote, including one to honor World War I veteran Apostil (Paul) Alexander, a Greek immigrant that local author Tony Petros also memorialized in his book on Norwich Greeks in World War I.
Alexander most likely was the last casualty of the Great War. Gravely wounded in the last battle on the last day of the war, he was listed as killed in action, until he was discovered alive among the dead and dying. Two bullets were removed, but one, too close to his heart was left in his body. After years of recovery in France, he returned to Norwich.
In his song, “It All Happened a Century Ago,” Callinan will sing what happened next to Alexander: “He opened a business, Alexander’s Luncheonette,” the lyrics say. “He was living the dream of a World War I vet. But 40 years after he’d been shot in the war, that old bullet shifted — and he died in his car.
“From what happened a century ago.”
Three Norwich veterans’ posts were named for Norwich soldiers killed in World War I — Peter Gallan, Robert O. Fletcher and Richard E. Hourigan — and Plummer will read brief biographies of each. Steve Alligood, grandnephew of Hourigan, will speak about the history of World War I and Ann Panteleakos of Putnam, an active member of national and local VFW organizations, will discuss the history of Veterans Day.
The history of women in the military will be woven throughout the celebration. Retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz will discuss her career in the Coast Guard and Retired Army 1st Sgt. Dora Vasquez-Hellner of Groton will discuss her experiences as a 23-year veteran.
After members of the Norwich Free Academy band play taps, the commemoration will move to the Robert O. Fletcher Post 4 American Legion Hall, 457 Laurel Hill Road, at 3 p.m. for “Great Songs of the Great War Era,” a concert, presentation of certificates to descendants of Norwich World War I veterans and light reception. The concert will feature several songs by George M. Cohan, including “Over There,” “Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” as well as Irving Berlin and some lesser known songs, including “How’ya Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm after They’ve Seen Paree?” by Walter Donaldson.
Waggoner said the event planning committee has been working on the Armistice Day program for the past several months. An accompanying plan that will take several months longer is an effort to restore Norwich’s war prize, a captured German Howitzer, now in storage in the Public Works garage in rusted condition.
The committee has raised nearly 60,000 needed to restore the Howitzer and will sell stickers and T-shirts on Sunday as part of that effort.
Donations to the effort can be sent to the Norwich Finance Department, 100 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360, with checks made out to City of Norwich with a notation “WWI artillery restoration.”