Jul 6, 2006
Thousands gather to salute veterans
By Ken Borsuk, Staff Reporter

Record crowds turned out Saturday afternoon for the 15th annual Salute to Veterans.

After years at Greenwich High School, the salute was moved this year to Havemeyer Field behind Town Hall. James Carrier, co-founder of the Veterans Appreciation Council and of the salute itself, said he was beyond thrilled with the number of attendees.

“We blew our crowd estimates off the charts,” Mr. Carrier said. He earlier had said he hoped 5,000 would attend but estimated thousands more than that came.
World War II veterans John Micik and William Olsen watched the annual Salute to Veterans program Saturday morning at Havemeyer Field. Close to 7,000 people attended to tell assembled veterans ‘Thank you and welcome home.” — David Ames photo

Mr. Carrier said he was so pleased with the turnout that he was committing immediately to having the salute in Havemeyer Field again next year.

Even with the change in venue, the salute featured, as it had in years past, a demonstration of combat tactics by United States Navy SEALs. The demonstration included machine guns loaded with blanks, small, controlled explosions and a Navy Blackhawk helicopter landing on Havemeyer Field.

When the helicopter made a few test runs over Greenwich Avenue on Friday, it attracted several surprised onlookers. The same thing happened on Saturday as the mock sounds of combat ripped through the town’s main shopping area. Store employees and customers popped out to see what was happening.

“All the noise is kind of annoying, but I really don’t mind it,” Jahmar Bailey, a fashion salesman at Scoop on Greenwich Avenue, said on Saturday. “It serves a purpose because it reminds people what’s going on in the war. It’s just a little annoying to hear it.”

One of the members of the SEAL team was very familiar with the terrain, having grown up in Greenwich. Third Class Petty Officer Carl Higbie, a 2002 graduate of GHS, volunteered for the elite team in 2004 and last year received his special warfare badge, known as a trident, which made him a full Navy SEAL.

Petty Officer Higbie said the training to become a SEAL, which is legendary for being demanding and grueling, was “the best and the worst of times all at the same time” but said he was privileged to be a part of it. As one of the younger members of the unit at age 23, he said he learns from his fellow SEALs every day.

“It’s an honor to wear this uniform and stand up and be in the legacy of those who have gone before us,” Petty Officer Higbie said. “Every day I wake up and try to be all that they were and more. It’s a lot of shoes to fill.”

Petty Officer Higbie said he was first inspired to enlist after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He thought about his decision for a year and then joined up after he graduated high school.

“I knew this was where I wanted to be,” Petty Officer Higbie said. “This is where I have to be. This is where I can offer the most that I have.”
He added it was a real thrill for him to return to his hometown for the ceremony.

“The support we get from this town is amazing,” Petty Officer Higbie said. “I can’t thank people like Jim Carrier enough. The guy is amazing. He’d give his arm and leg. If one of these guys needed a liver he’d give it to them in a heartbeat.”

In addition to the demonstration, the ceremony also featured a performance by the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. The 24-man platoon, which performs a precisely orchestrated affixed-bayonett rifle drill, without a word of instruction or cadence, tours around the world and performs regularly at the historic Marine barracks in Washington, D.C., during the summer.

During the ceremony all veterans who were able were called out to help unfurl a 1,500-foot American flag while a 21-gun salute marked the veterans who had lost their lives while serving their country.

The crowd at the 15th annual Salute to Veterans was treated to the sight of a Navy SEAL demonstration team touching down onto Havemeyer Field in a Navy Blackhawk helicopter to secure a van commandeered by terrorists and then flew out again. — David Ames photo

“Each day we are reminded of the freedom and liberties that so many veterans have fought to defend,” Mr. Carrier said. “We’re surrounded by anonymous heroes who quietly serve our country and, in some cases, are wounded in action doing it.”

Mr. Carrier introduced two wounded veterans of the Iraq War he had invited to the salute. Army General Pat Maney, who had been a guest speaker at the salute in 2002 and 2003, was introduced after surviving a roadside bomb attack on his vehicle. Marine Lance Corporal Mark Beyers, who had been wounded on foot patrol and now has a prosthetic arm and leg, was also singled out and both men received standing ovations from the thousands in attendance.

Mr. Carrier told them it was an honor to have them both here so he could say “thank you and welcome home.” That message has been the theme of the salute since its inception.

The message was well appreciated by the veterans in attendance. Sebastian Scata, who served in the Philippines during World War II, contracting both malaria and jungle rot while he was there, attended with his family, several of whom had come for the first time.

“It’s wonderful to see all of this,” Mr. Scata said. “It’s good to see people haven’t forgotten us.”

The message was particularly felt by Vietnam veteran Tom Curtin, a Port Chester, N.Y., resident who was attending for the first time. He had wanted to attend in the past, but couldn’t get off from work as an electrician until this year.

“When we came from back from Vietnam, we didn’t get this fanfare,” Mr. Curtin, who was a ship service mid-second class in the Navy from 1967-1971, said. “I really appreciate people doing it now for us and for all veterans.”

Those who hadn’t served were also touched by the message.

“This shows a lot of respect for the troops, respect for the military and respect for the commitment and sacrifice they all made,” Michael Hawkins, who was attending for the fourth time with his sons Max and Brandon, said. “It’s a great day for the family.”

Larry and Ellie Bowman brought their daughter Connie to the salute again after not attending for the past three years. Mrs. Bowman said the change in venue inspired them to come out and see how things had changed. She added that at a time of war it was extra important for their to be patriotic events.

The salute was co-sponsored by the Veterans Appreciation Council and the Intrepid Museum Foundation, which is in the middle of constructing a $36-million, state-of-the-art rehabilitation center to help amputee veterans.

kborsuk@acorn-online.com © Copyright 2006 by Hersam Acorn newspapers