Memorial Day Speech: Because They Lived

9 Min read

Memorial Day Speech Transcript and Video, New Canaan Town Hall

Honoring seven New Canaan residents

Remembering Hailey Hodsden

Remembering the MH-60M Black Hawk #490 crew of the 160th SOAR(A)

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Honored Resident Photos at this link

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VIDEO OF SPEECH – follow this link

    

 ******** SPEECH TRANSCRIPT *********

Good morning.

What an incredible honor to be here.

Thank you for inviting me to speak.

First Selectman Dionna Carlson,

Commander Mike McGlinn

Reverend Burgess

Fellow Citizens of New Canaan

My name is MyLinh Brewster Shattan and I want to talk with you about:

The purpose of Memorial Day and why we are here.

I have three stories that I think will do that. 

I’ll start with the one I know best, my own.

This is my family’s 16th year in New Canaan and it is the first time I’ve made it to the parade. Because Memorial Day is my wedding anniversary.

This seems a somber time for a soldier to take matrimonial vows, but my husband and I chose this weekend because friends stationed around the globe would be able to take pass to attend our wedding.

I was born in Washington, D.C. BUT, my story begins in the early seventies as a Saigon kid. Sai Gon was the name of the capital city—a free city– in South Viet Nam.

Next year– 2025 –will be 50 years since the end of the U.S. mission. My father escaped with US Ambassador Martin on April 30, 1975 on the last helicopter from the embassy roof. And in doing so, he was able to help as many Vietnamese allies as possible to evacuate. He had sent me and our family home, shortly before that fatal and historic day.

You see…

My father, Donald Charles Brewster, was from Boston and served in the U.S. foreign service; he is buried right here in Lakeview Cemetery along an old horse path by the back gate.

My mother was born in Hue, the ancient and imperial city in central Vietnam. Her father was a Mandarin—or civil magistrate—under the last emperor. he forbid her from marrying this American, this man who would become my father.

Luckily–for me–she did not always do what she was told. She worked for the US Embassy. She lives in New Canaan and she is here today, Huong Buu – or Linda — Brewster.

Linda’s family served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Her closest brother, my beloved uncle, was an infantry and engineering Company Commander who did not evacuate and remained with his company. He was imprisoned in a reeducation camp for 3 years and would die attempting to escape Communist rule.

I am grateful to the United States for its alliance with the former Republic of Vietnam: and I am lucky to be one of 2.3 million Americans of Vietnamese descent who reside today in this land of the free.

Twelve years after the Fall of Saigon I reported to West Point for basic training. I would serve in the US Army at the end of the Cold War in reunified Germany; the Berlin wall had just come down.

Which is why I am here today, as a U.S. Army veteran.

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For the second story, I ask you to travel back in time to 1959-1960, town population just over half, 12 to 13 thousand.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower is in charge. He was a former general, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe.

The Space Race is on; it’s the Cold War; Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba. and, Hawaii is admitted as the 50th state in the union.

Elvis Presley returns from military duty in Germany and the US announces that 3500 soldiers will be sent to Vietnam.

The building where Saxe Middle School is currently located –that’s the town High School.

I want to talk to you about seven New Canaanites

Dave Austin, Creighton Conner and Rit Bickford are at New Canaan High School.

Dave Austin (of Valley Road) heads to rehearsal in the senior play as Dr. Rezio in Don Quixote. Sancho Panza doesn’t care for him, because the doctor keeps him from doing his favorite thing: EATING. Dave likes to HAM it up in the Radio Club. An Eagle Scout and class Vice President, Dave receives the superlative for Most Contributions to the School. He will graduate from Colgate and join the Air Force.

Creighton Conner (of Oak Street near corner of South) is his classmate; he heads out to soccer practice. The team TIES the unbeaten Staples HS and has its first successful year. Folks know Creighton– a four-sport athlete—because he was the kid who had hit a home run out of Mead Park. “Pop Conner” Field on South Avenue is named for his grandfather.

Rit Bickford–short for Richard–is a sophomore heads out to Coach Sikorski’s Football practice. He’s the rising quarterback. New Canaan pulls off an upset over the Norwalk Clam Towners: 48 to 14. RIT will become president of the National Honor Society, earn a full scholarship to Wesleyan, then receive an appointment to West Point.

In 1960,  there are 141 seniors and 156 sophomores;

these three knew each other, perhaps as friends.

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William Brewster Nickerson is a senior at Deerfield Academy. He’s a St. Mark’s boy who plans to enter the ministry. The rector, Grant Merrill, describes him as one of our best. He graduates from Dartmouth, joins the Navy, and is first in his flight class.

The next year David Burke, Jr. (of Frogtown Road) starts high school. He attends Canterbury in New Milford. He has four sisters and has lived in town all his life. After two years at Providence College, he enlists in the U.S. Army.

Howard “Bruce” Smith (of Canoe Hill Road) – Bruce will attend New Canaan High School. Bruce enlists in the Army after sophomore year, earns his jump wings, and he will become part of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Sky Soldiers.

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More than a decade older than these 6 students, Fred Andrew Lind (of Shaker Road) had come to town as a teen and worked at the lumber company. He joined the Army, saw action in Korea and is a career soldier with 20 years of service.

It’s Memorial Day and the town is divided over the war. Pop Conner tells Creighton to “to be an example for the rest of the kids and march in the parade.” which, he does. This weekend in 1966 is the last time his family will see him alive.

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In a distant land on the other side of the planet, these residents answer the country’s call and serve with distinction.

They wear the cloth of the nation. And during that conflict, THESE SEVEN DIE.

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YET, I suggest to you that

These men did not DIE for their country.

They did not DIE for each other.

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These New Canaan residents—- these seven LIVED FOR them.

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Fred Andrew Lind is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Richard Oliver Bickford is buried at West Point

Creighton Conner, David Moy Burke, Jr, and  Howard Bruce Smith are interred here in Lakeview Cemetery.

The remains of Charles David Austin and William Brewster Nickerson were never recovered. Their names are inscribed at the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu.

What is the purpose of Memorial Day? To honor them; to honor the fallen.

Why are we here today? we’re NOT here today because these men DIED; we’re here today . .

Because THEY LIVED.

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FOR THE FINAL STORY

Ten years ago, I awoke one morning with a clarity of mind and knowledge I had not possessed before.  I realized something about my children:

My ten-year old brought home the “newspaper” she published at West School and for a fill-in-the-blanks article she wrote: When I grow up I want to be in the Army.  

At a West Point parade, my cousin asked my twelve-year old where he wanted to go to college. He looked at the grassy plain where the cadets had just marched and said, “Here.”  [this past SATURDAY he was commissioned a 2LT in the  US Army]

My teenager was wearing my old Army boots to King School because they were her favorite shoes. She would write about those boots for her college essay.

All my children are in the US Army. Our family currently has eight members on active duty, with generations who served.  

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It may not feel like we’re at war, but the armed forces are training, deploying, and fighting, at home and around the world and often on a moment’s notice.

I attended two military funerals and a unit memorial in the last nine months.

On August First, a commercial truck hit Hailey Hodsden’s Stryker, the lead armored vehicle of a convoy in Germany. She was a scout platoon leader with the 2D Cavalry Regiment. She was 24 years old.

Three months later on November 10th, five crew members [Steve Dwyer, Shane Barnes, Tanner Grone, Andrew Southard, Cade Wolf]  of a 160th SOAR or Special Operations Aviation Regiment died in a nighttime exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. They deployed to the region after the Hamas attacks on Israel.

Steve Dwyer was on board the MH-60 Black Hawk, tail number 490. He was 38 years old and leaves behind a wife and three boys.

Both parents of Hailey and both parents of Steve—are my friends— Both parents and their children—all six of them served in the U.S. military.

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What is the purpose of Memorial Day? TO HONOR them; TO HONOR the FALLEN.

Why are we here today?  Because of soldiers such as Hailey Hodsden and Steve Dwyer—

Because THEY LIVED.

We honor Americans who gave their all, from the Revolution through Vietnam and current conflicts, over 1 million 300 thousand men and women.

I ask you to share with friends, family, children, and neighbors –

the purpose of Memorial Day: To HONOR the Fallen.

Please pause for a moment of silence today to remember those who

once lived and played ball,

who practiced lines for the high school play,

and helped secure for us the blessings of freedom.

And, remember why we are here:

To say a prayer of gratitude,

that such MEN AND WOMEN LIVED.

Thank you.

****** END OF TRANSCRIPT ******

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VIDEO OF SPEECH – follow this link

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FOOTNOTE

*This speech was given in New Canaan Town Hall on Memorial Day Monday, on May 27, 2024.

*Honoring seven New Canaan residents: Charles David Austin, Richard Oliver Bickford, David Moy Burke, Jr., Creighton Lynn Conner, Fred Andrew Lind, William Brewster Nickerson, and Howard Bruce Smith.

*Remembering Hailey Hodsden along with the crew of the MH-60 Black Hawk Tail Number 490. Stephen R. Dwyer, Shane M. Barnes, Tanner W. Grone, Andrew P. Southard, and Cade M. Wolfe. Photo of crew here.

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May 27, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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