Sixteen veterans helped bring history alive Thursday at Weston High School to an auditorium packed with students, teachers and community members. "I want these kids to realize what these guys sacrificed," said Betsy Peyreigne, chairperson of the Select Committee on Veterans Affairs, which organized the event. "What they did is inspirational."
Among the veterans who spoke, five fought in WWII (including two who took part in the Battle of the Bulge), two in Korea, two in Vietnam, and one in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crowd was particularly mesmerized when WWII vet Al Mecozzi grabbed the microphone and took the audience deep into the dark world of warfare.
"I was captured by the Germans and put in a prison hospital," Mecozzi remembered. "We were given one piece of cabbage and some water. I remember late at night a guy would sneak me a piece of bread. Boy, did that taste good."
After 36 days, he escaped from the hospital with the help of the same German who had given him food and rejoined American forces. But rather than being honorably discharged like other POWs who escaped captivity, Mecozzi slipped through the cracks and served two more years before a commanding officer finally asked him what he was doing on active duty.
"Why didn't you tell me that two years ago?" he said to the officer. After earning three Purple Hearts, Mecozzi returned home to his wife in Georgetown. He then got a job driving a bus for Weston High School, where the students nicknamed him "Mr. Bananas" because he always had a piece of the yellow fruit with him. He has been married now for 65 years.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein was also present for the ceremony. Her great-uncle, Bob Swirsky, spent 323 consecutive days in combat, fighting in five separate campaigns in the European theater during WWII.
"Veterans Day is a time to honor those who served," Weinstein said. "And to pay special homage to those who served who didn't come back."
Peyreigne has been organizing Weston's Veterans Day celebration for more than a decade now, and she plans to continue in her quest to expose the youth to the heroic lives of our servicemen.
Vietnam vet John Losier summed up his military experience in a way that resonated with the crowd and his fellow servicemen.
"The military can't make you better than everyone else. But what it can do is make you better than you would have otherwise been," he said.
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