Group restores neglected New London park in time for Veterans Day ceremony

Jordyn Hicks, 15, a member of the Junior Naval ROTC of New London High School, holds the American flag Sunday as part of the Color Guard during the New London Parks Conservancy's Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park in New London.
Jordyn Hicks, 15, a member of the Junior Naval ROTC of New London High School, holds the American flag Sunday as part of the Color Guard during the New London Parks Conservancy's Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park in New London. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

New London - Still they gather on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The gray-haired men and women whose service and sacrifice is now part of history came together at Williams Park Sunday with young warriors in training from the high school ROTC, city officials and members of the public to honor all those who have served in the military.

The Veterans Day presentation included prayer, music and wreath-layings befitting the solemnity of the occasion, but members of the New London Parks Conservancy couldn't help but feel a little giddy as they pledged allegiance to the flag that flew above the monument to World War II, Vietnam and Korea casualties.

The conservancy used the occasion to rededicate the park at the intersection of Broad and Williams streets following a yearlong restoration that included the installation of 15 benches and a plaque near the park's entrance detailing its history since it was founded in 1858. The patch of land at the city's center was donated by the Gen. William Williams of Norwich, in memory of his son.

The park, with a statute of Nathan Hale at its center and a walkway system shaded by towering oak and elm trees, had become a neglected patch of dust when former City Councilor Peg Curtain founded the New London Parks Conservancy in 1999, according to Naomi Paulson, treasurer of the group. The city's 26 parks all had been neglected, Paulson said, but the small group of volunteers could only do so much.

"We picked this one, which we felt was the nearest, the dearest and the neediest and had great potential," she said.

Funding was scarce, but an anonymous benefactor sent a large donation and others consistently wrote smaller checks, she said. Over the years, the group installed an irrigation system, planted trees and shrubs and flowers, and in the past year, installed the 15 benches. Paulson said the conservancy is now just a group of five people and is in need of new members to help with the park's upkeep.

"We weed," she said. "We clean. We plant. We do it all."

Paulson said the group is trying to raise money to fix the cracked concrete around the Nathan Hale statue.

Back at the front of the park, as the services came to an end and a few people lingered for coffee and doughnuts, Mavis Krajewski pointed out the name of a former schoolmate who had died in World War II. She stood in the sunshine, clasping the medal of St. Stephen around her neck, and told the story of George W. Murphy, who she said served in the Air Force and was known as "Pat the Pilot." Murphy was married with one child and another on the way when he was killed. Krajewski remembers her father coming home and telling her mother, "Pat got his."

"He was always in our prayers," Krajewski said.

Several speakers had remarked on the Veterans Day connection to the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. The agreement was supposed to end all wars.

"We look toward the time when leaders of all nations will come together and talk peace and act peace," said the Rev. Russell Gundlach, a police and military chaplain.

k.florin@theday.com

Justin Duverge, 16, a tuba player in the New London High School marching band, performs Sunday with fellow members as the New London Parks Conservancy holds a Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park.
Justin Duverge, 16, a tuba player in the New London High School marching band, performs Sunday with fellow members as the New London Parks Conservancy holds a Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
Mavis Krajewski of New London clenches her St. Stephen medallion as taps is played Sunday during the New London Parks Conservancy  Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park in New London. Krajewski had a close friend, George W. Murphy of New London, who was killed in action during World War II while serving in the Air Force. Murphy's name is inscribed on the memorial. Krajewski said Murphy sat in front of her in school.
Mavis Krajewski of New London clenches her St. Stephen medallion as taps is played Sunday during the New London Parks Conservancy Rededication of War Memorial ceremony at Williams Park in New London. Krajewski had a close friend, George W. Murphy of New London, who was killed in action during World War II while serving in the Air Force. Murphy's name is inscribed on the memorial. Krajewski said Murphy sat in front of her in school. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
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