After Decades As Stewards, Aging Vets Pass On Care Of Windsor Memorial
Time is catching up to the members of the Windsor Veterans Memorial Committee.
The committee was formed about 20 years ago to help raise money for a new veterans’ memorial in town. Some of the original members have died, and the remaining members are in their 80s now.
So the committee recently voted to disband and pass on the money that’s remaining in its fund to allow a younger generation to make sure the memorial is maintained into the future.
The group has about $30,000 left over, and they use it for upkeep, when a new name has to be added to the memorial or to buy flowers on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“The committee that we had was one beautiful committee,” said Bernie Shaban, one of the founding members. “Unfortunately, they’ve passed, and we are now too old to raise a flag and too old to lower a flag. Our days are done.”
Shaban grew up here in Windsor, and he served in Korea.
About 20 years ago, Shaban and a few of the other vets in Windsor started talking about raising money to replace a small plaque that honored the town’s fallen veterans.
“We had nothing in this town and yet we knew we had a lot of veterans,” Shaban said.
Shaban says the committee didn’t have a vision at first of what the new memorial might look like.
They started selling candy bars for $1 and asking up local businesses for donations.
And as word got out, some serious money started to flow in.
Town voters approved $20,000 for the project. The state appropriated some money and then-Rep. Bernie Sanders was able to secure federal funds.
After a year or two, the Windsor Veterans Memorial Committee had about $250,000.
And in 2000, a 7-and-a-half-foot bronze statue was dedicated at a town-owned park on Main Street.
"The committee that we had was one beautiful committee. Unfortunately they've passed, and we are now too old to raise a flag and too old to lower a flag. Our days are done." — Bernie Shaban, co-founding member of Windsor Veterans Memorial Committee
Over the next few years the park was developed in phases. Today, along with the statue and flag poles, there is a short pathway through a semicircle of granite stones.
Each stone holds the names of Windsor residents who served in American wars.
There’s a stone for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, all the way up through the two World Wars and Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
On a recent sunny day, Windsor High School junior Elena Preece was planting flowers around the memorial for the upcoming Memorial Day ceremony.
Preece took a second to look at the Civil War stone, and she recognized some of the names.
“It’s so crazy seeing all the names on these stones,” she said. “They have the same last names of the people I go to school with. It’s like these are their ancestors. It’s so wild knowing they’ve been in this town so long. I mean, they have family members who were in the Civil War, or in World War II.”
Milt Ducharme is one of the other surviving members. He served 20 years in the Navy and in Korea and Vietnam.
Ducharme says there are about 1,700 sons and daughters of Windsor engraved on the stones, of those who served in wars, and with a star by the name of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Ducharme says it took a few years to track down all the names, by visiting families and going through historic records.
“Through the years we were collecting names and checking on them to make sure they’re correct,” he said. “And this is what we came up with. And, other than that, it’s just a beautiful site. And I come down here every now and then, and just sit and think, think of all the people that’ve gone through here.”
At the end of the semicircle of stones, there’s a blank piece of granite.
And it was put there, Ducharme says, for any of the men and women of Windsor who are called on again to serve during a conflict.
“We hope we never have to put any people’s names on it, but that’s if we have a future war,” he said, as he pauses to look down at the blank stone. “The Gulf War is already over with and when they start another war somewhere else we’ll have the names on that one there. Hopefully, there’ll never be any names on that stone. But I’m sure the way the world is right now we’ll probably have another one somewhere.”