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thedrifter
04-28-09, 08:51 AM
‘You are our heroes’

Monday, April 27, 2009 11:46 PM EDT


BY DIANE CHURCH
STAFF WRITER

PLYMOUTH - During the final days of World War II, Lt. Warren Dion was in Tokyo, Japan, doing top-secret work.

“It was so secret my family didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. When he flew back to the States, he was the only passenger on the airplane because “they didn’t want to risk killing others” if his plane was attacked, he said.

Dion, who now lives in Plymouth, brought these memories and a photo album filled with pictures he took in Tokyo to a ceremony Monday at Terryville High School where Plymouth residents who served in the military during World War II were honored.

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, whose father who served on a bomber in the Army Air Corps during the war and can still fit into his uniform, conceived the idea after she realized that veterans of that war were dying off in great numbers. Rather than one large event for the entire state, she decided to go to every town individually. Plymouth is the 93rd town.

“I asked the mayor of East Granby if we could do this in his town first,” said Bysiewicz. “After he agreed I told a veteran who was standing nearby and he said, ‘Tell him to hurry up!’”

Others also saluted the veterans.

“You are becoming a very dwindling group,” said the Rev. Dr. Christopher Drew of the First Baptist Church in Plymouth. “We are eternally grateful for your service and all you have done to make this country what it is now.”

State Rep. William Hamzy attended the event, as well as the World War I memorial ceremony at the high school last week. However, there is only one known World War I veteran left and he lives in another state. By contrast, over 50 World War II veterans, all of whom live in Plymouth, were honored at the ceremony. The school’s culinary arts classes made the refreshments that were served afterward.

“We’re privileged to live in this country thanks to the sacrifice of people such as yourselves,” Hamzy told the veterans.

Bysiewicz thanked the former soldiers, sailors and Marines for their service.

“When our nation and our allies needed you, you responded,” she said. “You fought in the jungles of Asia, landed on beaches and fought in streets and hills. Then you came back, raised families, lived productive lives and made the United States what it is today.”

She also shared the story of her own family. Besides her father and two of his brothers, some of her aunts also helped with the war effort.

“Aunt Mary joined the Coast Guard and was sent to a hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. to work as a secretary.” Bysiewicz said. “Later she was secretary for an admiral in Washington D.C.

“Aunt Rose was a ‘Rosie the Riveter,’” she added. referring to a popular poster of the era. “She worked at Pratt & Whitney, helping make propellers.”

Before Bysiewicz and Mayor Vincent Festa Jr. handed out the awards, the secretary of state roamed the audience with a microphone, asking the veterans to share memories of their service in World War II. Most summed up their achievements in just a few sentences.

One recalled flying fuel to Belgium to help Allies win a battle.

A woman, wearing a navy-blue pantsuit and white gloves, said she also worked for the Coast Guard in Palm Beach like Bysiecwicz’s aunt,

One man choked up after telling how when he got back from a mission he was told to report to headquarters, where he received a Certificate of Valor.

Another veteran recalled serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Helena, which got hit and was repaired, then was struck again and sank.

“I was chief of watch and barely got out of the ship alive and found the life raft,” he said. “I was one of the lucky ones.” He said the ship got eight battle stars and he received a Unit Commendation.

“If you ask individual veterans if they did anything special, they would say “absolutely not,’” Bysiewicz said. “My dad said, ‘I just did what I was trained to do and made sure my crew got home safely.’ You are in so many ways our heroes, whether you think so or not.”

Ellie