STONINGTON — Stonington High School students hosted an Armed Forces Luncheon Tuesday at the VFW Post 1265 home in Pawcatuck to honor local veterans for Memorial Day. The event featured lunch cooked the Pawcatuck Lions Club and desserts by SHS students, plus films produced by the students and patriotic songs performed by student choirs.
The event is produced each year by students in Patrick McCarney’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class. Junior Iris Wainston said, “We try to make the veterans feel comfortable, and if they would like to share their experiences, that would be cool.”
William Brown, 79, said he was in the Navy during the Vietnam era, but was sent to Antarctica to be a radar man for three “operation deep freezes” on an icebreaker.
“The U.S. had a base down there, and to get the supply ships in, we had to crush a channel,” Brown said. “It was hammering 24 hours a day. You could feel the vibration. The ship rises up and crushes the ice for three week, then it backs down the channel.”
“The closest I got to battle was when they put me on a ship in Newport,” Brown said. “It was an oiler they were bringing down to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I saw Russian ships leaving the port. Once that was over, I came back to Newport and was discharged.”
Dave Carpenter said he joined the Air Force during the Vietnam era and was a logistics officer until 1990. He served in Hawaii and in Thailand.
“I was in Northern Thailand at the Lampang Air Base in support of the Vietnam mission,” Carpenter said. He said he met a missionary over there in 1974-75, and became a surrogate parent to the children in the missionary school.
“He was an American Presbyterian missionary who is still in Thailand,” Carpenter said. “I saw him again after 40 years and the children remembered that year like it was yesterday. I found him on the internet … he made what would have been a tough year over there a blessing.”
Steven Parenteau, who was in the Army during the Vietnam era, says he was “very lucky” after joining in 1966. While standing in rows to get their military assignments, he said, a “big guy” picked him up and put him in another row.
“He was trying to get out of going to 'Nam, but he put me in a row to go to Germany,” Parenteau said. “I lost 26 of my friends in the surrounding Plainfield/Wauregan in the war. A lot were drafted, but some were very patriotic and joined.”
“I was a sergeant in a howitzer battalion in Germany” Parenteau said. “I turned from a boy to a man.”
Anthony Mazza, 87, said he was in Europe on a goodwill tour on the USS Melvin in a military force mission from 1951 to 1953. A boatswain’s mate in the Navy, Mazza said he toured North Africa, Algeria, Italy, France, Gibraltar, England, Germany, Norway and Northern Ireland, among other countries.
“I liked it, it was a good experience,” Mazza said. “I’d like to go back and see the changes that have happened.”
Herbert Holmstedt, 89, who was in the Navy from 1947 to 1955, said he enjoyed the program put on by the students.
“I thought they were very good,” he said. “It’s amazing what they do.”
Several dozen veterans attended the luncheon with spouses and friends.
The Silver Dolphins Honor Guard from the U.S. Naval Submarine Base presented the colors at the opening of the event.