History Revisited: Groton's Memorial Park a great place to honor vets

With the three-day Memorial Day weekend rapidly approaching, it is my guess that many of the readers are preparing to celebrate the holiday with family gatherings, outside barbeques, participating in or attending sporting events, attending a parade or traveling short distances to enjoy visits with family and friends or various tourist attractions.

Each year citizens in the United States celebrate two national holidays — Veterans Day and Memorial Day — which honor those who have served in our country’s military forces. Many people are often either confused or are unaware of the differences between these two holidays.

Plainly speaking, Memorial Day remembers the men and women who have died while serving in the Armed Forces, whereas Veterans Day honors all of those, living and dead. who served in the Armed Forces.

Beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing through today, men and women from throughout the United States, including Groton, have proudly served their country in the military service.

The residents of Groton have continuously conveyed their gratitude for the services provided and sacrifices made by the military by erecting and establishing various veteran and war memorials throughout the community. Beginning in mid-2014, after discovering an obscure veteran memorial plaque inside a local church, this author began what turned out to be an almost “never ending” task of locating and detailing other veteran and war memorials between the Thames River and the Mystic River that honor Groton veterans.

To my surprise, this undertaking resulted in the discovery of over 100 war and veteran memorials recognizing Groton veterans. Almost half of the memorials documented were dedicated to or in honor of those who had lost their lives in the line of duty. Documenting these memorials made for an important Groton historical reference book.

Because we are about to celebrate Memorial Day, I wanted to review the centerpiece of Groton’s war and veterans memorials: Groton Veterans Memorial Park, off of Newtown Road in a parklet between Groton’s Public Library and Senior Center. The area is considered to be the geographical center of Groton.

The thought of establishing a memorial to recognize Groton veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War and Vietnam War began in December 1981 when the mayor and Council of the Town of Groton were petitioned by a group of residents to provide such a memorial. The mayor and Council subsequently created an ad hoc “War Memorial” committee to conduct a study and provide a proposal for a suitable memorial.

By June 1983 the mayor and Council accepted the committee’s recommendation to place the memorial on the town’s library site, and in June of that year approved the committee’s recommended design.

The design included the installation of three engraved 8-foot-long by four-foot-tall granite panels. The primary panel would be engraved with the words “The citizens of Groton, Connecticut have not forgotten the courage, valor and sacrifices of their veterans of all wars.”

The second panel was engraved “World War I [and] World II” and the third “Korea [and] Vietnam.” The Town Council also authorized an expenditure of $43,000 of the $50,000 needed to construct the park. The remaining money was received through donations.

A dedication ceremony for the memorial park was held on May 26, 1984.

In April 1997, a new initiative to add a third granite panel, called the “Twentieth Century” memorial was recommended by Groton resident and Korean War veteran William Hart. Hart, after conducting eight years of research, documented the names of 67 Groton residents who had given their lives during World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. The Council approved the project and appropriated $10,000 for the memorial. The memorial was dedicated on Nov. 16, 1997.

In mid-2011, the Town Council established another ad hoc committee to upgrade and improve the memorial park by adding a fifth granite panel to recognize the veterans of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In 2013, the Council approved the recommended upgrades and improvements to the park.

Although no municipal funding was available to purchase the panel, the town did provide the labor and some materials for its installation. Upgrades to the park included the installation of five new flag poles to display flags of each branch of service, and a memorial brick plaza containing engraved blocks purchased in honor of local veterans.

Significant funds were raised by the committee to enable the newly engraved granite panel, with the words “Persian Gulf, Iraq [and] Afghanistan,” and the five new flag poles which were installed in July 2014. Installation of the memorial plaza was completed in November 2018.

Other upgrades are still being considered, and a small endowment has been established to permit purchasing replacement military service flags when needed and purchasing special remembrance wreaths at the park in recognition of the service and sacrifices given by our Groton veterans.

It would be wonderful if each of us, while partaking in our holiday activities on Memorial Day, could take just a moment or so to remember all those who have given their lives so we can enjoy ours. The Groton Memorial Park is a tribute to all of Groton’s veterans and, as a suggestion, would be a great place for readers to visit and thank all veterans, past and present, for their service to our country.

Jim Streeter is the Groton town historian.

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