Wet weather dampens VITAS Hospice Care Memorial Day celebration

Bagpiper Bob Scent and drummer Robert Davis perform "Amazing Grace" from the deck of the USS Nautilus as VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and the Submarine Force Library and Museum host a Memorial Day ceremony for Connecticut veterans and their families Thursday at the museum pier. Visit www.theday.com to view a photo gallery.

Groton — A ceremony planned to honor veterans was affected by stormy weather Thursday, when wind blew rain onto seniors wheeled outside under tents at the Submarine Force Library and Museum.

VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, a for-profit hospice provider, organized the 5th Annual Memorial Day Celebration to remember the servicemen and women who dedicated themselves to serving the country. About 200 veterans, family members and friends attended, including dozens in wheelchairs, some accompanied by paid caregivers who had brought them from assisted living facilities.

At least 50 were assembled and more were being wheeled outside by 1 p.m., but the ceremony did not begin until close to 1:30 p.m.

While some waited inside the museum, other seniors taken outside for the event became soaked under the tent.

Sidney Goodson, 87, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, began shivering and was among those who had to be brought back inside, given a coat, then a blanket.

Sean Emond, veteran liaison for VITAS, said he believed the event went well despite the weather.

"We waited out the storm and then we had a really great ceremony," he said.

Emond said the ceremony was planned outside unless there was lightning, and people were encouraged to come inside if they were cold. There were 23 junior ROTC members assisting those in wheelchairs and another 20 Navy members assisted, he said. VITAS brought umbrellas, Emond said.

Navy Spokesman Christopher Zendan said the Navy provided the venue, some speakers and support to VITAS, but it was not a Navy event. He said there was some hesitation about where to set up chairs due to the weather, but VITAS made the decision to hold the event outside. Zendan said those at the event looked like they were with caretakers but he would relay the concern up the chain of command.

Emond said health care facilities who sent people to the event were told to send enough staff to take care of whom they were bringing.

At least one man who struggled to speak became separated from his caretaker, then rain-soaked and had to be brought inside by a stranger.

Goodson, a veteran, said ceremonies like the one Thursday are important as they remember people's sacrifices. "So many innocent people (died)," he said. "So many innocent people that could have been saved."

Caroline Defabio, 87, of East Haven, said before the ceremony began that her late husband served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He died in 1987, she said.

"You think about it all the time," she said, with tears in her eyes. "We wish he was here."

After the rain eased, the program began with a welcome, parade of the colors, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and prayer by Jack Gallimore, chaplain of Groton Base Submarine Veterans.

Captain Carl Lahti, commanding officer of Naval Submarine Base New London, gave the keynote address.

"Their legacy of honor, courage and commitment was achieved in their selfless sacrifice, and in many cases, their blood," he said of those who served.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Veterans and their families are escorted through a downpour to a tent before the ceremony. Heavy rain and winds delayed the start of the ceremony by a half hour.
Veterans and their families are escorted through a downpour to a tent before the ceremony. Heavy rain and winds delayed the start of the ceremony by a half hour.
Veterans salute during the national anthem as VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and the Submarine Force Library and Museum host a Memorial Day ceremony for more than 200 Connecticut veterans and their families Thursday.
Veterans salute during the national anthem as VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and the Submarine Force Library and Museum host a Memorial Day ceremony for more than 200 Connecticut veterans and their families Thursday.
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