John Carragher, advocacy and assistance officer for the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, pins a Connecticut State Wartime Service Medal on Clinton Dobbs Saturday, August 13, 2022, during the ceremony of the Military Appreciation Day at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The Coast Guard Academy select cadets Fourth Class, dressed in grey, and Second Class, dressed in red, approaching Ocean Beach Park after fleeing Mitchell College on Saturday, August 13, 2022 to attend the Military Appreciation Day ceremony at Ocean Beach in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly speaks Saturday, August 13, 2022, during the Military Appreciation Day Ceremony at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Staff Sgt. Evan Nava of the Connecticut Army National Guard listens Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, as Navy Federal Credit Union’s Angie Clay, center, Nautilus Park Mortgage Supervisor, and Dara Wicken, Naval Submarine Branch Director, talk about his help in saving a life before presenting him with the Special Action Award during the Military Appreciation Day ceremony at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The Military Appreciation Day Ceremony on Saturday August 13, 2022 at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London – At least 300 people gathered at Ocean Beach Park on Saturday afternoon to celebrate veterans and thank them for their service and sacrifice.
The Military Appreciation Day at Ocean Beach Park included speakers such as Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Representative Joe Courtney, D-2nd District and State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague. Russell Armstead, acting director of Connecticut Veterans Health Care, and Alvin Kinsall, chairman of the New London Veterans Affairs Committee, addressed the crowd. Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly, Capt. Ken Curtin, Commanding Officer of U.S. Submarine Base New London and Major General Francis Evon of the Connecticut National Guard were on hand for the festivities. Former Congressman and retired Colonel and First Councilor of Stonington, Rob Simmons, also shared a few words.
Saturday’s event, hosted by the City of New London, Ocean Beach Park and New London Veterans Affairs, is the fifth annual Military Appreciation Day. It included scheduled speeches from dignitaries as well as vendors from noon to 5 p.m. and a Connecticut Veterans Wartime Service Medal ceremony at 3 p.m.
Other event sponsors include Cardinal Honda, Navy Federal Credit Union, The Day and Electric Boat.
The US Coast Guard Academy Cadet Class of 2026 ran a 5K on their way to the event at Ocean Beach. Speakers frequently addressed the class, which included the majority of the more than 300 people gathered. Employment, recruiting, or information tents for Electric Boat, the National Guard, and the Marine Corps, as well as other military-related organizations, surrounded the stage placed at the entrance to Ocean Beach Park. .
Coast Guard’s Kelly said he was proud to have presented the Class of 2026 to the City of New London, “our Coast Guard city”. He said the class included nine international cadets, had “302 students” and that 43% of the class was made up of women.
“We’re looking forward to what they’re going to do over the next 200 weeks,” Kelly said.
Courtney began her remarks by pointing out that New London County has the highest concentration of veterans of any place in Connecticut. He said it was important to recognize that and recognize those veterans every day.
Courtney spent part of her remarks talking about the proposed Coast Guard Academy museum in New London, telling those gathered that it is on the way to fruition.
“Recently New London donated the property that will be the site of our new US Coast Guard Museum. we’ve approved $50 million to really get this project started and kick-started,” Courtney said. “And it’s going to be a national destination for a branch of the military that doesn’t have a national museum. and we’re actually going to see shovels in the ground and dirt flying around, and this project is moving forward.
Osten commented on the fact that nearly half of the incoming class of 2026 are women.
“When I joined the military, it wasn’t 43 percent women,” said Osten, an army veteran.
“The freedoms we have here are all because each of you decided to join the military,” she told veterans and active duty members in attendance.
Blumenthal echoed Osten’s point, saying many beachgoers who populated Ocean Beach on Saturday afternoon were unaware of the ceremony, and in a way that was intentional.
“All they know is that it’s a beautiful day and they feel safe in the strongest and greatest country in the history of the world,” Blumenthal said. “We may lament that fact, but in a way we should be proud of it…You made us that way.”
Simmons retired as a colonel in 2003 after 37 years of active and reserve service in the Army. His comments focused on the anti-war attitudes he and other Vietnam veterans faced upon returning home.
“There was a time when our soldiers were not appreciated. I’d like to offer my regards to…most of us who have been told, “I don’t want American boys fighting a war that Asian boys should be fighting,” Simmons said. He said that when he returned home from active duty and entered college, he and his compatriots were “labeled war criminals and baby killers.”
“We made a commitment to ourselves and to others that we would never allow another generation of veterans to go through what we went through,” Simmons said.
He also mentioned another way the military and the country have changed, noting the discrimination against black service members at home and abroad.
“I salute these black candidates who have chosen to wage an unpopular war for a country that has failed to guarantee them respect, dignity and basic civil rights,” Simmons said.
Armstead told attendees that if they are eligible, they should enroll in the veterans health care system. He also touted the recent expansion of a CTVA healthcare site in New London.
Curtin, Saturday’s featured speaker, became commander of Naval Submarine Base Groton in September last year.
“Your support for active duty veterans is unmatched in this country,” Curtin said of Southeast Connecticut. “New London, Groton and all the other surrounding communities provide tremendous support to our military.”
He also championed the new cadet class.
“You survived the summer, and your adventure has only just begun. The next four years will be both challenging and exciting as you prepare to join the fleet,” Curtin said. and the Marine Corp are the world’s premier maritime force. You are our future. You will secure our tomorrows.
Saturday’s event concluded with the presentation of medals to veterans, including a Vietnam lapel pin for those who served in the armed forces between 1955 and 1975, regardless of location, and a Long Service Medal Connecticut Veterans War Award, awarded to veterans who serve certain wartime service and are residents of Connecticut.