MERIDEN — The grand marshal of this year’s Memorial Day parade is a local veteran who received two Purple Hearts fighting in the Vietnam War.
Longtime city resident Renato “Ray” Maratea was selected as marshal of the annual parade, scheduled to begin Monday at 10 a.m. on Curtis Street. The parade will travel down Broad Street, then turn left onto East Main Street before ending with a special ceremony at the Meriden Green.
Maratea’s path to fighting in Vietnam was not like most. After graduating from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Maratea enlisted in the Army in March 1966 at the age of 18. He received training at Fort Dix military base in New Jersey before being stationed in Crailsheim, Germany, where he worked as a clerk typist.
“While I was in Germany, I didn’t like being a clerk typist because it was boring. I had to do the morning reports and it just wasn’t fun,” he said. “So a buddy of mine in my platoon said we should try out for a machine gun team. If we made the team, then we’d travel all over Germany competing against the Germans, the French, and other Americans.”
But Maratea didn’t realize at the time that joining the machine gun team meant his primary job went from being listed as a typist to infantry.
“They never told me that, so I never knew that. It was great traveling all over Germany because we stayed in nice hotels while everyone else went to the field and trained. So it was nice, but then I got levied to go to Vietnam. And I was a little confused thinking, ‘Geez, you wouldn’t think they would need a clerk typist in Vietnam.’ But that’s when I found out that, no no, (typist is) your secondary (job title) and your primary is infantry because they gave me a machine gun.”
A few months into serving in the first cavalry in Vietnam, Maratea was shot in his left arm. Doctors initially thought they were going to have to amputate Maratea’s arm but were able to save it. Today, Maratea says he is unable to straighten or twist his left arm, but he considers the injury “minor” compared to what other veterans endure.
Maratea was honorably discharged in February 1969 after spending seven months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C.
He received two Purple Hearts for his service, one for being shot in the arm and another for suffering a less severe bullet wound to the foot while running up a hill.
Maratea moved from New Haven to Meriden shortly after being discharged. He worked for 32 years as a letter carrier and supervisor at the U.S. Post Office in Cheshire and raised three children, two sons and one daughter, with his wife Pat of 49 years at their home in South Meriden.
City Councilor Bob Williams, commander of the American Legion Post 45, which organizes the Memorial Day parade, said Maratea was chosen as grand marshal because he’s been a very active member in the community and the legion.
Friends of the Vineyard
Maratea is most proud of his involvement with a volunteer organization that he and other South Meriden residents started about 10 years ago, Amici Della Vigna, which means Friends of the Vineyard in Italian.
The group, which the late Tom’s Place owner Tom Caliendo helped found, contributes to several causes in the community throughout the year, including scholarships, kids programs at Hanover School and the annual Christmas in the Village festival.
“That’s very important to me,” Maratea said during an interview at Tom’s Place. “Because it’s a group of guys that started right here in Tom’s Place. We got about 20 guys in the membership but we do so many things that it’s incredible how much we’ve done in 10 years.”
Williams also said he likes to pay special homage to Vietnam veterans because he feels they “were never really ever welcomed back after the war.”
“We personally we can't do enough to thank our Vietnam veterans for what they did because of the way they were humiliated when they returned,” Williams said.
’Five minutes of thought’
Maratea believes it’s important for municipalities to hold events commemorating Memorial Day “as a reminder of exactly why we have what we have.”
“You don’t have to celebrate by going to a parade. If you truly care, just say a prayer not so much for the ones that perish but their families because those are the ones that had to go through a lot,” Maratea said. “All it takes is five minutes out of that whole weekend and just think about why you have what you have. Why you have your freedoms, why you’re able to cook those hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill. If you just give five minutes of thought to that and if everybody did that, it would have more meaning.”
Williams said any individuals or groups who wish to participate in the parade can contact him at 203-641-4622. Advance notice is preferred, but Williams said the parade can squeeze in those that show up on parade day as well.
“We’d like to believe we’re going to see more and more people on the streets...just saying thank you to our veterans on Monday,” Williams said. “It's not a lot to ask people to take an hour out of their day to thank our veterans.”