Christmas vigil a show of solidarity for peace

Seamus Berrigan Sheehan-Gaumer, 2, son of Frida Berrigan and Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, at right, joins his parents and a group of peace activists, including local icon Cal Robertson, at the corner of Crystal Lake Rd. and Rt. 12 in Groton for a Christmas Day Witness event outside the U.S. Navy Submarine Base Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.

Groton – Christmas Day is a day of gathering with family and friends, usually at the home of a loved one. 

The same was true Thursday for about 10 members of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and St. Francis House, a Christian-affiliated community center that also provides housing for the homeless. 

But for this group, the location was the corner of Route 12 and Crystal Lake Road, near the main entrance to the Groton Submarine Base. There they held a vigil to promote peace and to support their friend Calvin “Cal” Joseph Robertson. 

Robertson, 65, has since the mid-1980s been a fixture at the base and at Parade Plaza in New London, where he is known to stand with a sign urging peace. Sometimes, he’s joined by a friend or two, but oftentimes he “vigils” alone, participants said Thursday. 

Standing in a yellow raincoat and leaning on a walker, the Vietnam War veteran said Thursday morning that the vigil — he specifically stated it was not a protest — was general in scope. 

“It is the feast of the birth of the prince of peace and we are far from peace,” chimed in Elizabeth McAlister, who was standing next to Robertson. 

She added that she believes investment in the military upended investment in other areas, such as education and health care. 

McAlister of Baltimore was in town visiting her daughter Frida Berrigan, a New Londoner and member of All Souls. The whole family was out there Christmas Day — Berrigan and her husband had a young son and daughter in tow, plus other extended family. 

“I thought it would be fun to have them all here,” Berrigan said of bringing her family. She held a worn sign: on one side was printed “Why is there always money for war but not for health care?” and on the other, “health care” was replaced with “education.” 

Just as important as promoting peace was supporting Robertson, the group members said. 

Robertson in the past has been known to stand every day with a sign promoting peace, either in New London or Groton, or one location in the morning and one location in the afternoon, participants said Thursday. 

“For me this is more of a moral support action,” said Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, Berrigan’s husband. In lieu of holding a sign, Sheehan-Gaumer wandered from one end of the line of sign-holders to the other with his 10-month-old daughter sleeping in a sling against his chest. 

Recent health issues, including difficulties with walking, have shortened Robertson’s schedule, according to Mike Hatt, a social worker who works with Robertson at St. Francis. Robertson became a resident at St. Francis House in September. 

Robertson and Hatt now have a schedule of going together every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to Parade Plaza where the two hold peace vigils from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

The vigil Thursday wasn’t specifically directed at the sub base, though Robertson did mention he was opposed to recent plans to ramp up submarine building at Electric Boat. 

In April, the U.S. Navy awarded the largest single shipbuilding contract in its history to Electric Boat for the construction of 10 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines. The total 10-ship Block IV contract is for $18 billion over five years, which will be paid for in increments in each year’s defense bill. 

Hatt said the base was chosen because participants anticipated greater traffic at Route 12 on Christmas Day than on Bank Street in New London, where most stores would be closed.

t.townsend@theday.com

Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

Grace Panko joins a group of peace activists, including local icon Cal Robertson, gather at the corner of Crystal Lake Rd. and Rt. 12 in Groton for a Christmas Day Witness event outside the U.S. Navy Submarine Base Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.
Grace Panko joins a group of peace activists, including local icon Cal Robertson, gather at the corner of Crystal Lake Rd. and Rt. 12 in Groton for a Christmas Day Witness event outside the U.S. Navy Submarine Base Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.
A group of peace activists, including local icon Cal Robertson, center, gather at the corner of Crystal Lake Rd. and Rt. 12 in Groton for a Christmas Day Witness event outside the U.S. Navy Submarine Base Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.
A group of peace activists, including local icon Cal Robertson, center, gather at the corner of Crystal Lake Rd. and Rt. 12 in Groton for a Christmas Day Witness event outside the U.S. Navy Submarine Base Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.

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