Over 70 veterans, New Haven residents and municipal employees gathered in City Hall on Veterans Day to pay tribute to the city’s war veterans, adding to the city’s recent efforts to better serve its veteran community.
The event, titled “Welcome Home with Gratitude,” was aimed toward honoring Vietnam War veterans, whom Ward 14 Alder and event organizer Santiago Berrios-Bones said were not welcomed home with the support and recognition that other war veterans received.
“The Vietnam War was a very unpopular war,” said Berrios-Bones, who served in the U.S. Army from 1969–71. “Veterans were not looked at with a lot of pride, and they used to call us baby killers … it is about time we recognized our participation in this war. Not for killing anyone. But for participating.”
After a pipe and drum processional, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler delivered an address to the veterans, which was followed by an original song that East Haven resident Adam Christoferson sung and played on an acoustic guitar. Other speakers included Mayor Toni Harp, Commander Michael Romeo of the U.S. Naval Reserves and Rev. Luk De Volder of the Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green. Singers from the Welcome Home Gospel Choir sang songs from the Revolutionary War along with “God Bless America,” and a local music school student performed “Taps” on the trumpet to close the ceremony.
Hamden resident Barry Braman, who served two tours from 1966–69 with the Army, said the event was important because it connected people who did not serve in the Army with the experiences of veterans.
“Unless you’ve served, unless you’ve met a veteran, you really don’t know what it’s about. We might have a rough night in Vietnam, and to wake up in the morning and to see that flag, the red, white and blue, with no damage — even though our base was damaged — that was so incredible,” he said. “And the average American citizen doesn’t look at the flag that way unless he’s been through that.”
The Veterans Day event was part of a broader effort by the city to better serve its veterans, said Andrew Wolf, New Haven’s director of arts, culture and tourism and one of the organizers of the event. From national pledges to local nonprofits, New Haven is increasing its commitment to its men and women who served, he said.
Just this summer, Harp signed a pledge issued by President Barack Obama to end urban homelessness among veterans by 2015. Harp said after the event that she hopes to serve the roughly 500 homeless veterans in the city through subsidized housing and by offering them first access to some of the city’s social services. She said she is optimistic that the job can be completed.
Several members of the committee in charge of the Veterans Day event are also working to improve the city’s Vietnam memorial — a black granite “V” that points toward Huế, New Haven’s sister city in Vietnam.
Event organizers Conley Monk Jr. and Garry Monk, leaders of the National Veteran’s Council for Legal Redress, an organization seeking to assist dishonorably discharged soldiers in their appeals, are working to raise money from New Haven and its surrounding towns for the memorial. They said they hope to add a walkway from the granite “V” into the water behind it, as well as an inscription of the names of all the Vietnam War veterans, both victims and survivors, from New Haven and its surrounding towns.
Another program seeks to give a human face to the war memorials of New Haven. Artspace, a New Haven-based non-profit, is seeking a million-dollar Bloomberg Philanthropy Grant to bring the Veteran’s Projection Project to New Haven. The project, started by Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, features interviews with veterans and digital projections of their faces onto the memorials, said Sarah Fritchey, the organization’s visual arts coordinator, who attended the Veterans Day event. If this grant is awarded, they hope to use memorials such as the East Rock Park memorial and several memorials on Yale’s campus for the projection stories, Fritchey added.
The recent increase in programs assisting veterans as well as events like yesterday’s celebration shows veterans that they are not forgotten and that they are appreciated, said Garry Monk, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 to 1970.
“This really was symbolic of a closure ceremony for the Vietnam veterans,” he said. “And so here, ceremonially, we got the chance to say ‘Thank you for your service. Welcome home.”
At the event, veterans were encouraged to take application forms for the Connecticut Wartime Service Medal, a distinction offered by the governor to the state’s veterans.