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Fairfielder Offers Memorial Day Musings

Robert Bellitto is a member of the Board of Finance, and a lifelong Fairfield resident. He has also announced his candidacy for the office of First Selectman in this November’s election.

I woke up on Memorial Day morning to the sound of thunder and raindrops hitting the windowsill. I was disappointed. I was planning to march in the Memorial Day parade one final time with my son’s Little League team, before he turned thirteen and didn’t want to be seen in public with me anymore. It wasn’t looking promising.

My wife Maureen suggested that I go shave, grab my baseball cap, and head down to the parade with our son. Being a smart husband, I did so. We parked down by Marshalls, and began the long walk to the beginning of the parade route. We walked the route from end to beginning just as the parade started. That way, we could watch some of the parade before we marched in it ourselves.

We walked down the Old Post Road, where red, white and blue buntings decorated the front porches of houses built when horse drawn carriages ambled by. Folding chairs, blankets and even old couches were beginning to fill up with excited spectators. The smell of pancakes from St. Paul’s permeated the air as a fife and drum band played long forgotten songs. Lemonade was being poured and sold by children who were too adorable to walk past. Rotarians collected money and canned goods for veterans in need. It almost seemed as if time was standing still. It could have been 1941.

My son and I would walk a little, watch a little, then walk some more. Veterans drove slowly by, chauffeured in classic cars. We made sure to wave and yell “Thank You” to these gallant and humble members of The Greatest Generation. My grandfather Steve Tobis and my father-in-law Jim Hanley were part of that generation. My grandfather made the ultimate sacrifice fighting in World War II with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in northern Italy. He died a hero, saving his entire platoon from Nazi sniper fire, and was awarded the Purple Heart and other medals. Half a world away, my wife’s father fought in the Pacific aboard the USS McCoy Reynolds and the USS Arkansas. He jumped off the deck of one of those ships to save a man who had fallen overboard. Years later, at a Navy reunion, that man publicly thanked my father-in-law. My wife’s family sat in stunned silence. They didn’t know. Veterans didn’t talk about their acts of heroism. They just considered themselves lucky to be alive.

As we made our way to the start of the parade route at Granville Street, my son and I made a quick turnaround and began to march the same route we had just travelled. I looked at all the people who lined the streets, listened to the applause, saw the American flags waving. To me, each face I saw was saying thank you to my grandfather, to my father-in-law, to all those brave men and women who have fought and died for our country and our freedom. As we passed the Public Library, I spotted my wife holding our 21-month-old daughter. I came over, scooped her up and marched the rest of the parade route with her in my arms.

We passed the reviewing stand at the end of the parade, at the end of a long but wonderful morning. Some people were packing up their chairs to go home, but most stayed until the very end. As I looked around at the sea of flags and people, I couldn’t help but feel happy and blessed. I was seeing my hometown of Fairfield at its very best. I was seeing everything good that my grandfather had died for.

Rob Bellitto

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