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Waterford - Dozens gathered at the pond next to Waterford Public Library on a blustery morning Sunday to honor hometown hero and veteran Arnold E. Holm Jr. and dedicate a park in his memory.
Holm, nicknamed "Dusty," was a star athlete at Waterford High School and beloved classmate who was killed when enemy fire downed his helicopter in central Vietnam on June 11, 1972.
Attempts to recover the remains of Holm and his crewmates stalled until 2002 when Brett Arnold, a civics teacher at Waterford High School, and his students asked then-U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons to intervene. Rep. Joe Courtney took up the case when he was elected in 2006, and the crash site was finally excavated in 2008.
After the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office identified his remains in May 2011, Holm was finally buried in November 2011 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Since then, Holm's classmates have raised money for a memorial, and the town approved a request last year to rename the Civic Triangle pond area the "Arnold E. Holm Jr. Memorial Park."
On Sunday, a new brown sign stood in front of the pond, reading "The Arnold E. Holm Jr. Memorial Park," with five small American flags staked in the ground in front of it. A bronze plaque was also unveiled, bearing images of Holm as a high school athlete and young military officer, with a short biography of his sports and army career.
At the bottom was one quote in all capital letters: "I swam to the horizon to find that I have yet to begin."
Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward called it an "exceptional day."
"The Arnold E. Holm Jr. Memorial Park reminds us each day to honor all the servicemen and women who serve our country," he said.
Courtney led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance before making his remarks. Of all the memorial events taking place across the state this weekend, he said, this one in particular "dwarfs" the rest in its honoring of an example of "human excellence and courage."
Courtney recalled the bureaucratic struggle involved in the long search and the privilege of helping Holm's family. Thanks to the park memorial, Courtney said that Holm's story "will be told and retold forever."
Simmons, a Vietnam veteran himself, also spoke. He said he did not know Holm but learned about him over the years. The 40-year search for Holm's remains galvanized the town, the state, and the nation, he said.
"It wasn't quick, it wasn't easy, but it was worthwhile," he said.
Addressing Holm in spirit, Simmons added, "We thank you for reminding us that the values of America are worth fighting for, and even worth dying for. Welcome home, brother."
Also among the dedication's speakers were Holm's childhood best friend and Waterford High School football team co-captain, Bill Cavalieri. He recalled Holm skating on the pond in the park and throwing rocks at the ducks, eliciting some chuckles from the crowd.
Cavalieri also spoke of his best friend's precociousness, and the intensity with which he played varsity baseball, basketball and football. After graduating high school in 1962, Holm gave up his promising college sports career and an athletic scholarship to Springfield College to enlist.
Though the emotional rollercoaster of tracking down Holm's remains after he was killed at age 28 was trying, Cavalieri said he is convinced it was simply his best friend's way of making sure he never forgot him.