Some have asked me, “why spend all that time researching deceased veterans?” To me, the question answers itself.
These are the stories of the life and service of those with ties to Norwalk who made the ultimate sacrifice as a result of service to the country during wartime service. It’s critical we know more about them than just a name on a plaque.
In the spring of 2019, I attended the annual Veterans Memorial Ceremony at the Shea – Magrath Memorial and Wall of Remembrance at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. The annual ceremony honors two Norwalk residents who were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor – John Magrath during World War II and Daniel Shea during the Vietnam War, as well as all who died during wars. Surrounding the monument to these hometown heroes are also plaques honoring those who died during wars from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom / Operation Enduring Freedom.
As I walked around the monument that day I was struck by how little I knew about the names on these plaques. I found myself wondering about where they grew up, where they went to high school, whether they were married or had kids, and what branch and unit were they in. I decided that day that I would take some time to research every single one of those names in order to tell their story. My ultimate goal is to connect younger generations with the stories of hometown heroes so they understand that service and sacrifice are a long-standing tradition in Norwalk and something that deserves our deepest gratitude.
I began with the names on the Vietnam War plaque. Having vague memories of the war on television as a child, the war, and the people who fought in it, always had some mystique and a certain reverence for me. While not a popular mindset in the 1960s and 1970s, there has now been enough time for these veterans to have their stories told for a grateful city.
The research was completed primarily through paid subscriptions to genealogy related web pages. When the names on the Vietnam plaque were done, I knew I had to finish the work, so I took it a step further and completed the Korean War list, World War II, OIF/OEF, and lastly World War I. The plaque with the World War I names is on the base of the cannon at the Norwalk Town Green. I waited until the end of the research to look at the World War I names as I had a feeling there wouldn’t be much available through internet sources to properly tell their stories.
What began as a curiosity, has become a labor of love and respect. These are boys from the streets I grew up on. All left home with a purpose and a mission. Some never came back and are interred in well-kept cemeteries in the Philippines, Hawaii, Europe, and Africa. Others came home to a hero’s welcome that unfortunately included a funeral with military honors.
The goal of the research is primarily intended to be an education and for residents to create a connection. My hope is there will be a curriculum connecting these heroes to students at every level. I want people to talk about them in schools and in homes. It’s important that their stories never get lost to time so when we look at a name on a plaque, it means something… forever.
Much of the work wouldn’t have been possible without direct and indirect contributions from The Norwalk History Room at the Belden Avenue branch of the Norwalk Public Library, cemetery employees across the world who I hold in high esteem, my family, and of course the families of these heroes who contributed to their story.
Lastly, my heart goes out to the families. What an awful yet honorable way to lose a loved one. If there are stories or pictures that exist that can be added to the pages on the website, please send those via the contact page. It will be my privilege to add them to future versions.