We say history is all around us in Norwich when we speak about life in the Colonial era and of our region’s role in the American Revolutionary War, but this Saturday we mark a different kind of history from a different, and much more recent, time in our history.
The expression goes “time heals all wounds” but the difficulty with the past can sometimes be that there's been no time for the scars to heal. And often, the scars aren’t even acknowledged. Thirty-six years ago this Saturday, the Fall of Saigon marked the official end of the longest war fought in the history of our country, the Vietnam War.
"No event," said President Richard Nixon, "…is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War...Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic."
A snapshot of Norwich's current population suggests nearly half of us who live here now weren't on earth during the years of the Vietnam War. I'd hope those of you to whom that applies, most especially, might find the time to join those of us who were, this Saturday afternoon at one on Chelsea Parade to remember those who fought, those who died and those who have yet to return from the fight.
Norwich strives to be a city, but we are, a gathering of villages each with a heritage of hard work and sacrifice found in small towns. And in small towns, war is not an abstraction or an account in a history book; war is a family matter. A lifetime ago brothers, fathers and uncles, as well as sisters, mothers and aunts, all traveled halfway around the world to a place few of the rest of us could pronounce or even find on a map, because their country asked them to do so. Those who fought in the Vietnam War came from everywhere we call home, wherever that is, to include fourteen from Norwich who died there.
Robert Cooley, Francis Donahue, Thomas Donovan, James Greene, Jr., Joseph Grillo, Jr., Robert Howard, William Marcy, James McNeeley, Harold Nielsen, Robert Pendergast, Franklin Renshaw, Aaron Rosenstreich, Alton Sebastian, and David Voutour are as much a part of Norwich history as Samuel Huntington or Edward Land.
We'll gather Saturday to honor their sacrifice and to pay tribute to all who served. The speeches and the poems and prayers will be for each of them and for all of us. Those who returned were often changed, some scared and scarred by what they had endured and others still struggle to come to terms with the world as it is, and their place in it. Saturday is when we tell them 'Welcome Home.'
-Thank you to Chief Pudge for his detective work on Alton Sebastian and Aaron Rosenstreich both of whom lived in Preston, 'back in the day' when our neighbor did not yet have a Post Office.