GROTON, Conn. – Communities throughout southeastern Connecticut held celebrations and ceremonies to honor their military heroes throughout the week in recognition of Veterans Day, Nov. 7-11.
From multiple school assemblies, to a news station visit, and the annual Tolling of the Boats ceremony on Veterans Day itself, communities throughout the region showed their appreciation and support for current and former service members.
“It’s important that we drop anchor and pause to honor those veterans who have not only gone before us, but those veterans who will follow in our footsteps to ensure our freedom for years to come,” said Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London Command Master Chief Raj Sodhi, who spoke at Charles Barnum Elementary School on Friday during an assembly.
At Charles Barnum Sodhi addressed the children who were seated on the floor in the cafeteria, many with their military parents present in uniform.
“I’d like to take a minute to talk about veterans, why we have them, and why Veterans Day is such a special day,” said Sodhi to the attendees. “Veterans are all those past and present who are living, or are serving in our armed forces. Our Armed Forces consists of the Army, the Navy like me, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard as well as our National Guard. Veterans may or may not currently wear a uniform but they all have one thing in common, they all took an oath to defend the United States and our freedoms. Freedoms are very special. We are free to say things that we like. We are free to gather with people that we like, we are free to worship the religion that we like, and for the most part so long as it is not against the law, we are free to do what we like. In some countries in the world, there are people who do not like the freedoms we as Americans enjoy. Defending us are the members of our Armed Forces. They are our veterans.”
Sodhi went on to ask the children to raise their hands if they had parents or loved ones currently on deployment. Multiple kids raised their hands to cheers from their classmates and military members present.
Similar events were hosted at other schools around the area including Cutler Middle School, where Historic Ship Nautilus (SSN 571) Officer-in-Charge Cmdr. Brad Boyd spoke, Sterling Community School and Nauchog Elementary. On Veterans Day itself the Submarine Force Library and Museum just outside the main gate of SUBASE New London hosted the annual Tolling of the Boats in which submarines and Sailors lost before, during and after World War II were remembered by tipping their boat flag and ringing a bell in their memory.
“The Veterans Administration every five years does a census in terms of collecting information and data about veterans across the country,” said U.S. Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s 2nd District. For his support of the submarine force and increased production, Courtney has acquired the nickname ‘Two-Sub Joe.’
“This won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but Connecticut’s second district has by far the highest concentration of veterans, twice as many as the next highest. No surprise because this is the largest military installation in New England and obviously a lot of folks who served there end up staying and become part of that population,” said Courtney.
Groton Mayor Keith Hendrick was the keynote speaker at the event. A submarine veteran himself and mayor of the ‘Capital of the Submarine Force,’ Hendrick talked about the history of Veterans Day, and extended his thanks to the veterans who have kept the United States defended and free.
“One the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the fighting of World War I ended in 1918,” said Hendrick. “Due to the conclusion to the war to end all wars, November 11 became a day of celebration. It was originally called Armistice Day and honored only veterans of that war. Then in 1954 after World War II and the Korean War it was renamed Veterans Day to honor all veterans of war who defended American democracy. Today we honor all our veterans who unselfishly placed their lives on the line for freedom. Those men and women were ordinary people until they heard the call of duty and answered it. They left their families, their homes, their lives; not for recognition, but to protect and maintain our way of life.”
Holding each flag of a lost submarine was a student at Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL). The quarters in the museum were tightly packed, ironically mimicking the cramped conditions aboard submarines themselves. Scattered throughout the veterans in attendance were members of an elite group known as the Holland Club.
“I want to call special attention to the men hear wearing yellow hats,” said Hendrick. “They belong to the Holland Club which represents Sailors who qualified in submarines 50 years or more ago. Thank you for your service, thank you for what you did, and I want to give you a round of applause.”
The ceremony culminated as the name of submarines ‘on eternal patrol’ were read aloud and a bell was struck in their memory. As this happened, the SUBSCOL Sailor holding the respective submarine’s flag tipped it forward for those in attendance to salute. A final bell was tolled for submariners who lost their lives but whose boats were spared.
According to the United States Census Bureau there are more than 180,000 veterans living in the state of Connecticut.