CHESHIRE — Patty Flynn-Harris, a member of the Cheshire Town Council, recently visited Omaha and Utah beaches in France, the site of the Allied invasion of Normandy 75 years ago.
She toured the beaches where young soldiers endured a fearsome defense from the Nazis. She also toured the graveyards where they finally rest in lines of identical gravestones.
“Closing my eyes I could see every photograph, every picture, every movie I’ve ever seen of those days … it was very real. It was a humbling experience,” Flynn-Harris told a gathering on the Town Green assembled to mark Memorial Day with a wreath laying ceremony.
About 80 people gathered on the green Saturday morning to make sure, using the words of John White, the commander of VFW Post 1052, the memorial is not lost in Memorial Day. Cheshire lost residents in the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“We are here to honor those who sacrificed,” White said.
The ceremony was replete with all of the phrases everyone uses to recognize those that died in America’s wars — supreme sacrifice, devotion to duty, sacred mission, protecting our freedoms. White said that since the American Revolution over 40 million people have served in the armed forces. Over 1 million died in battle.
But for every form, uttered much like a prayer, there is a story. Yetta Augur, president of the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, told two of the stories, one of her own and one for someone else.
It wasn’t until her 40s that she realized that her grandfather George Meehan was decorated for his service in World War II. He enlisted in 1941 and served at D-Day. “After Normandy he never got on a boat again,” she said.
When he came home, Meehan went back to a normal life. He wanted Augur to watch the news with him so she would understand what was happening in our country. He watched war movies on the weekends and alluded to friends who had been lost. “He believed it was a great privilege to live in this country,” Augur said. Son never knew his father
Augur also read remarks from town resident Raymond Voelker, who was not able to attend the event. Voelker’s father enlisted at the post office in Newark in December 1941, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He initially wanted to serve in the Army Air Corps and learn to fly, but in 1944 he transferred to the infantry and served under General George Patton at the Battle of the Bulge.
“He was an athletic, religious, and mature young man who loved his wife,” Augur said, reading Voelker’s remarks.
Voelker wrote his wife daily about the horrors of war and his concern for the “boys” under his charge. He spoke German fluently enough to convince 40 young German soldiers to surrender.
He was excited about the birth of his upcoming child and pledged to be safe. Voelker volunteered to lead a patrol into a small French village that the Army had presumably taken the day before. German machine gunners crept back into the town over night and Voelker was killed trying to retake the village.
“I was born six weeks later,” Augur said, channeling Raymond Voelker.
Raymond Voelker never knew his father and for the first time two years ago went back to Luxembourg to see his grave. “We mourn his death as if it happened only yesterday,” Augur said, reading Voelker’s remarks.
Sometimes the sacrifices aren’t just from those who directly serve.
There aren’t many veterans left from the United States’ biggest conflict, World War II. A pair of representatives from the Greatest Generation, Ralph Rowland and Rene Gagnon, placed the wreath on the town’s Civil War Memorial.
Rowland served as a Seabee in the South Pacific during the Second World War. Gagnon joined the Navy toward the end of World War II and served for 24 years, through the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was a steelworker who built, in his words, towers, tanks, and bridges.
“Here, take my hand,” Gagnon said to Rowland quietly as they rose to place the wreath.
Slowing marching, the duty toward their fallen colleagues never ending, the elderly men stood at attention and offered a salute as two Cheshire High School students played Taps in the background.
“The sacrifice would be meaningless without some remembrance of it,” White said.