Military Appreciation Day in New London brings together cadets and vets at Ocean Beach Park
New London — At least 300 people gathered at Ocean Beach Park on Saturday afternoon to celebrate veterans and thank them for their service and sacrifice.
Military Appreciation Day at Ocean Beach Park included speakers such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague. Acting Director of Connecticut’s Veterans’ Affairs Health Care Russell Armstead and Alvin Kinsall, chairman of the New London Veteran Affairs Committee, addressed the crowd. Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly, Capt. Ken Curtin, the Commanding Officer at U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London and Major General Francis Evon of the Connecticut National Guard were on hand for the festivities. Former Congressman and Retired Colonel and Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons shared some words as well.
Saturday’s event, held by the City of New London, Ocean Beach Park and New London Veterans Affairs, is the fifth annual Military Appreciation Day. It included the scheduled speeches from dignitaries as well as vendors from noon to 5 p.m. and a Connecticut Veterans Wartime Service Medal ceremony at 3 p.m.
Other event sponsors include Cardinal Honda, Navy Federal Credit Union, The Day and Electric Boat.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet Class of 2026 ran a 5K on the way to the event at Ocean Beach. Speakers frequently addressed the class, which comprised the majority of the more than 300 people gathered. Employment, recruiting or informational tents for Electric Boat, the National Guard and the Marine Corps, as well as other military-related organizations, surrounded the stage placed at the entrance of Ocean Beach Park.
Kelly of the Coast Guard said he took pride in introducing the Class of 2026 to the city of New London, “our Coast Guard City.” He said the class included nine international cadets, is “302 strong,” and that 43% of the class is made up of women.
“We are looking forward to what they’re going to do over the next 200 weeks,” Kelly said.
Courtney began his remarks by pointing out New London County has the highest concentration of veterans of any place in Connecticut. He said it was important to recognize that and to recognize those veterans everyday.
Courtney spent part of his remarks on talking about the planned Coast Guard Academy Museum in New London, telling those gathered that it’s on its way to fruition.
“Recently New London donated the property which will be the site of our new U.S. Coast Guard Museum. This year was a milestone year because along with my friend Senator Blumenthal, in the FY-23 budget we approved $50 million to really kickstart and jump-start that project,” Courtney said. “And it will be a national destination for a branch of the military that does not have a national museum. The … work is going to start slowly, and we’re actually going to see shovels in the ground, and dirt flying, and this project is moving forward.”
Osten commented on the fact that almost half of the incoming Class of 2026 is women.
“When I went into the military, it wasn’t 43% women,” Osten, an Army veteran, said.
“The freedoms that we have here are all because each and every one of you decided to join the military,” she said to the veterans and active-duty service members present.
Blumenthal echoed Osten’s point, saying that many of the beachgoers who populated Ocean Beach on Saturday afternoon weren’t aware of the ceremony, and in a way that was by design.
“All they know is it’s a beautiful day and they feel safe and secure in the strongest, greatest country in the history of the world,” Blumenthal said. “We can bemoan that fact, but in a certain way we oughta be proud of it … You made us that way.”
Simmons retired as a colonel in 2003 after 37 years of active and reserve service in the Army. His comments focused on the anti-war attitudes he and other Vietnam veterans faced when they returned home.
“There was a time when our military was not appreciated. I would like to offer my salute to … most of us who were told, ‘I don’t want American boys to fight a war Asian boys should fight,’” Simmons said. He said that when he returned home from active service and entered college, he and his compatriots were “labeled war criminals and baby killers.”
“We pledged to ourselves and others that we would never allow another generation of veterans to go through what we went through,” Simmons said.
He also mentioned another way in which the military and the country has changed, noting the discrimination against Black service members at home and abroad.
“I salute those Black candidates who chose to fight an unpopular war for a country that did not guarantee them basic respect and dignity and civil rights,” Simmons said.
Armstead told attendees that if they are eligible, they should enroll in the Veterans’ Affairs Health Care system. He also touted the recent expansion of a CTVA health care site in New London.
Curtin, Saturday’s featured speaker, became commanding officer of the naval submarine base in Groton in September of last year.
“Your support for the active-duty veterans in unmatched around this country,” Curtin said of southeast Connecticut. “New London, Groton and all the other surrounding communities provide so much support to our military members.”
He also championed the new class of cadets.
“You have survived swab summer, and your adventure is just beginning. The next four years will be both challenging and exciting as you prepare to join the fleet,” Curtin said. “The Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corp form the world’s premiere maritime force. You are our future. You will ensure our tomorrows.”
Saturday’s event concluded with the presentation of medals to veterans, most notably a Vietnam lapel pin for those who served active duty in the armed forces between 1955-1975 regardless of location, and a Connecticut Veterans Wartime Service Medal, awarded to veterans who serve a certain amount of wartime service and are Connecticut residents.