To honor local veterans, the Larchmont Historical Society sponsored “Once Upon a Time in a War—A Salute to Local Veterans” at St. John’s Episcopal Church on November 11. The format of the afternoon was for local veterans, representing World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Iraq War, to tell their stories of sacrifice and patriotism. The hall was packed, and the audience responded with both laughter and tears as the stories were sometimes comical and sometimes tragic.
The festivities actually began out on the lawn in front of St. John’s as Cub Scout Troop #33 and Brownie Troop #132 lined up to wave flags and welcome in the arriving veterans. Twelve veterans – one woman and eleven men – shared their stories.
Irene Ayriss Stone, now age 94, started off the program, dressed in her uniform from the 1940s. She trained to be a shipboard radio operator, which permitted her to serve in the Coast Guard during World War II. In addition to her stories of air and sea rescue work, she recalled that, like other young women of the era, she sometimes wore fancy black lace underwear, and this made for quite a sight when she had to climb rope ladders to check equipment in the dirigibles used during World War II.
Jack Coughlin described listening for the planes to leave for bombing raids in Europe, and even more important, listening for them to come back. His unit marched into Dachau, a German concentration camp. After the sights he saw there, he noted, it was very clear “that the fighting was worth it.”
Joe Germano was so eager to join the Marines that he and a friend went to Manhattan to sign up, but there was one hitch – the recruiter said they had to return to Mamaroneck and finish high school first. Mr. Germano was part of an amphibious force that started on the U.S.S. Eldorado and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Izzy Schlinger started in the Signal Corp but was transferred into the infantry, and his unit had the important responsibility of laying telephone wire for communication as the troops moved forward from Omaha Beach and on into other parts of Europe.
Dominique Supa, who served in World War II, brought up a point adults often worry about today: young people’s lack of knowledge about the world. He said it was no different then: “When Pearl Harbor was hit, we had no idea where it was at the time.” He went on to serve as part of the National Guard.
Henry Jackson found himself the only officer in charge of enlisted men on a merchant ship but made the most of the challenges that were presented to him.
Tony Marsella brought a composite photograph of him and his two brothers, all in uniform, and talked about his time in Italy. He and his brothers corresponded throughout their military service, and he only learned that one brother had been killed when letters were returned to him unopened, marked “KIA (killed in action).”
Sheldon Evans talked of his experience as part of the Red Ball Express, which was a massive logistical operation that provided the front lines with the supplies they needed for fighting throughout the European Theater. Mr. Evans described a trip he took to re-trace the places he had traveled during the war.
Norman Peck served in the Korean War and also was part of the Honor Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. He told of being a sophomore at MHS and how unprepared the country was when the Korean conflict erupted. The only way to muster enough men was to resume the draft.
Jim Schutta, a young father from Larchmont, currently serves in the Marine Reserves. He was a first responder during 9/11 and is also a bomb squad member of the NY Police Force.
Burt Corwin, a Vietnam veteran, gave a moving speech about the difficulty of fighting in an unpopular war. There were few dry eyes in the audience when Mr. Corwin said it had taken 25 years for someone to thank him for being a veteran. He noted that those thanks came from another Vietnam vet who was in a wheelchair.
Richard Cantor, now CEO of Amerigard in New York City, is a Vietnam veteran who spoke of service and the Kemper family. The land and the memorial in front of the high school were dedicated in memory of his uncle. The family has done a great deal to keep alive the memory of the World War II veterans who attended MHS and are honored there.
The final speaker was Larchmont Fire chief Richard Heine who was on vacation but wanted to be certain to be at the event. He was dressed in combat fatigues and brought the uniforms he wears when he goes on tour in Iraq. He has served in Iraq twice.