State honors Guilford vets, confers public service awards

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 23, 2008

GUILFORD — Long-held memories spilled forth as dozens of local World War II veterans gathered at Nathanael B. Greene Community Center.

Some recounted humorous stories from boot camp, while others remembered the horrors of life in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Frank Proto, who was captured by the German army during the war, said that he was moved to speak after hearing some of the other stories.

“I really had no intention of speaking here today. Out of 16 million who served in the service, I was an insignificant guy, but I did my duty,” Proto said. “Almost every day I think of my experiences as a POW.”

On Wednesday morning, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz honored Guilford’s veterans, including Proto, as part of the Connecticut Public Service Awards program. Her office has been giving out the awards since 2001, but this is the first year they have gone specifically to World War II veterans. Guilford was the latest stop as she travels to different towns for similar ceremonies.

More than 200 people packed the room at the community center, with about 80 veterans. They included men and women from the Army, Navy, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Merchant Marine.

Bysiewicz said the goal of the event was to thank the veterans for their service. She noted that about 40 veterans of World War II die in Connecticut every day.

“Many people of the ‘greatest generation’ don’t think they did anything special because so many of your generation were involved in the war effort, yet it is very appropriate that we honor you for your courage and the strength you brought to our country,” she said. “While you’ve never asked to be thanked, we think it is very appropriate today to say, ‘Thank you.’”

During the ceremony, speakers frequently referred to the veterans as members of the “greatest generation.”

“You men and women that we honor here today worked us out of a depression, defended democracy in its gravest hour and forged a new world that we would inherit,” said First Selectman Carl Balestracci.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, of Guilford, D-12, called the event “one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my private or public life.”

After the official speakers, Bysiewicz offered the microphone to anyone in the audience who wanted to share their memories.

Wally Kline said that he served three years in the Marine Corps during and after the war.

“I also spent three years as a civilian during the war and I think that we should applaud the civilians that are here that lived during the war,” he said. “Everything was rationed. You guys and you gals, you remember the blackouts, especially along the shore.”

Charles Ives, who was in the Navy, noted the bond that formed with other personnel on the ships.

“Remember what we used to do when we got off of liberty?” he asked. “We didn’t say we were going back to the ship. We said we were going home, because it became our home.”

After the speakers, Bysiewicz handed citations to each veteran.

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