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Parade Pays Tribute to the Fallen

In 1943, P. Mike Gish graduated from Staples High School and enlisted in the Marine Corp. He was  following his older brother Carl. Today, Mike marched alongside other members of the Westport VFW to honor the memory of the one who didn’t make it home.

“He died the day before his 20th birthday,” said Gish as he looked over the names of Westport servicemen on the memorial at Veterans Green. The large wall-like monument holds both brothers’ names in honor of their service. A smaller plaque names Carl as one of the fallen.

“We were very close. He was big and idealistic and brave. We did everything together,” said Mike.

The annual parade weaved through the streets from Saugatuck to Town Hall. Civic associations each paid their respects to those who, like Carl, served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Marching bands trumpeted patriotic tunes while mobile tributes rolled by. The Y’s Men of Westport/Weston’s float was designed by award-winning artist Leonard Everett Fischer and portrayed the grizzly reality of trench warfare. The display showed WWI soldiers keeping vigil in a mock trench, with machine gunners on the lookout for enemies. At their feet, wounded soldiers lie dying.

“When you look at our float the first thing you see is  an image of soldiers in battle. Then the second thing you see is my sister and I as fallen soldiers,” said Jeff Ford. Their father, Clark, was a member of the Y’s Men and an active participant in planning for the parade until his death in 2007.

“[The float] is to remind people that war has a cost,” said Ford. When Clark died his surviving family were all made honorary members of the Y’s Men.

In the post-parade ceremony on the green, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff read a list of Westporter’s who are serving active duty overseas. “So don’t just think the wars we fight are far off, that they don’t touch Westport,” said Joseloff.

Co-Grand Marshal George Marks Jr. encouraged people to extend a hand of thanks to those who served. “It is a simple gesture, but one that will be warmly accepted.” Marks and his father, George Marks Sr., are the first father and son to simultaneously share the title of grand marshal in the Westport parade. They are both veterans and both served in the Westport Police Department.

Gish said he has seen a huge shift in the attitude toward military service  since his youth. In 1943, when all of his classmates went to war. “Today it seems to be enough for most people to put on a bumper sticker and just say ‘ thank you for your service,’” he said.

Gish noted that Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day, was first declared in South Carolina in 1886. Mothers had been decorating the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers since the Civil War ended in 1865. The idea grew from there. Gish said they were well ahead of their time in paying tribute to fallen soldiers. He keeps that spirit alive by driving from his current home in Rhode Island every few years to honor Carl.  He just wishes more people would embrace the true meaning of the day. “It’s not the beginning of summer,” he said. “It’s not a great shopping day.”

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