‘We’re Here Today Because They Lived’

Standing-Room-Only Crowd Attends Annual Memorial Day Ceremony

By Michael Dinan 

SOURCE: New Canaanite – MORE

The May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony at Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

Though it may not feel like the United States is at war, the U.S. Armed Forces are deploying and fighting at home, abroad, “and often on a moment’s notice,” according to U.S. Army veteran and New Canaan resident MyLinh Brewster Shattan.

U.S. Army veteran MyLinh Brewster Shattan, state coordinator for Connecticut Admissions Field Force for the U.S. Military Academy, during the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony at Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

Addressing a crowd gathered in the Town Hall Meeting Room for the annual Memorial Day ceremony, Brewster Shattan noted that she has attended two military funerals and a unit memorial in the last nine months. 

The parents of two of the deceased—a 24-year-old woman serving as scout platoon leader with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and a 38-year-old man on board a UH-60 Black Hawk deployed after the Hamas attacks on Israel—are friends of Brewster Shattan.

“Both parents and their children—all six of them served in the U.S. military,” Brewster Shattan told the standing-room-only crowd at Town Hall, gathered there instead of Lakeview Cemetery because the annual Memorial Day Parade had been canceled due to expected rain. 

L-R: Fire Chief Albe Bassett, Police Chief John DiFederico, Deputy Chief Andrew Walsh, Capt. Joe Farenga and Lt. Jason Ferraro during the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony in Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

“What is the purpose of Memorial Day? To honor them. To honor the fallen,” she said, adding that we honor them “because they lived.”

“We honor Americans who gave their all from the revolution through Vietnam and current conflicts,” Brewster Shattan said. “Over 1.3 million men and women. I ask you to share with your friends and your family and your neighbors and your children the purpose of Memorial Day: to honor the fallen. Please pause for a moment of silence to remember those who once lived and played ball,  who practiced lines in the senior play, who 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.”

She received a standing ovation at the end of her keynote address. 

First Selectman Dionna Carlson at the podium during the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony in Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

The approximately 40-minute ceremony was attended by First Selectman Dionna Carlson, Selectmen Steve Karl and Amy Murphy Carroll, Fire Chief Albe Bassett, Police Chief John DiFederico, state Rep. Tom O’Dean (R-125th) members of New Canaan Emergency Medical Services, the Hannah Benedict Carter Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, local clergy, police, firefighters, residents, members of VFW Post 653 and numerous other town officials.

Organized by VFW Post 653 and emceed by the organization’s commander, Mike McGlinn, the ceremony was led in prayer by the Rev. Gilbert Burgess, pastor of the Community Baptist Church and Brian Vanderheyden, a 1965 New Canaan High School graduate and former U.S. Marine corporal and Vietnam War veteran. 

Mike McGlinn, commander of VFW Post 653, during the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony in Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

Carlson said in her opening remarks: “I just wanted to thank you veterans and thank you fellow New Canaanites for joining us here in Town Hall instead of the hallowed grounds of Lakeview Cemetery. But we wanted to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and our way of life.”

In her address, Brewster Shattan told three stories, starting with her own upbringing in Saigon and how her father escaped Vietnam at the very end of the war on April 30, 1975, with U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin, “on that last helicopter off the embassy roof.”

Brian Vanderheyden during the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony in Town Hall. Credit: Michael Dinan

“By doing that, they were able to help as many of our Vietnamese allies escape as possible,” Brewstern Shattan said. “He had sent me and my family home shortly before then, that fatal and historic day. You see my father, Donald Charles Brewster, is buried right here in New Canaan at Lakeview Cemetery. He’s from Boston, he was in the U. S. Foreign Service, and he’s buried along an old horse path by the back gate. My mother was born in Hue, the ancient imperial city of central Vietnam. Now her father was a Mandarin, just a civil magistrate, and 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.”

Her mom, Linda Brewster, now resides in New Canaan and received an ovation from the gathering when her daughter introduced her.

L-R: Selectman Amy Murphy Carroll, First Selectman Dionna Carlson and Selectman Steve Karl at the May 27, 2024 Memorial Day ceremony in Town Hall. Contributed

“Linda’s family served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam,” she said. “Her closest brother, my beloved uncle, was an infantry and engineering company commander. He did not evacuate. He remained with his company, he was imprisoned in a re-education camp for three years, and he would die attempting to escape communist rule. I am grateful to the United States for its alliance with the former Republic of Vietnam, because 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 cadet basic training.”

Commissioned as a U.S. Army officer in the Adjutant General Corps, she served on active duty from 1991 to 1994 with the 381st PSC in Pirmasens and the 189th PSC in Kaiserslautern, both in Germany. She is Airborne and Air Assault qualified and led her battalion’s first Nijmegen Team of soldiers on the International Four Day (100-mile) Marches. Brewster Shattan continues to work with the military in the Admissions Field Force for the U.S. Military Academy as the state coordinator for Connecticut and is a senior panelist for U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy’s nominations panel.

In her final story in the keynote address, she honored seven New Canaan residents who died during the Vietnam War: Charles David Austin, Richard Oliver Bickford, David Moy Burke, Jr., Creighton Lynn Conner, Fred Andrew Lind, William Brewster Nickerson and Howard Bruce Smith.

She called for those in attendance to remember back to 1959-60.

“The town population is roughly half of what it is: 12,000 to 13,000,” she said. “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… The building where Saxe currently is located, that’s the town high school.”

Brewster Shattan described the New Canaanites at that time—for example, Creighton Conner of Oak Street heads out to soccer practice.

“The team ties the unbeaten Staples High School, and they have their first successful year,” she said. “Folks know Creighton because he’s a four sport athlete. They call him ‘The Duke.’ They know him because he hit a home run out of Mead Park. Now some of you may know Pop Conner Field on [Farm Road]. That’s named for his grandfather.”

Others among the seven play football, do theater, attend St. Mark’s and are otherwise involved in the community.

“It’s Memorial Day, and the town is divided over the war,” Brewster Shattan said. “Pop Conner tells Creighton, ‘Be an example for the rest of the kids: Go march in the parade.’ Which he does. This weekend in 1966 is the last time this family will see him alive. In a distant land on the other side of the planet, these residents answer the country’s call and they serve with distinction. They wear the cloth of the nation. And during that conflict, these seven die.”

Yet, Brewster Shattan said, “they did not die for their country, and they did not die for each other.”

“These New Canaan residents, these seven, lived for them,” she said, adding: “What’s the purpose of Memorial Day? To honor them. To honor the fallen. Why are we here today? Not because these men died. We’re here today because they lived.”

FOOTNOTE

*New Canaanite by Michael Dinan, May 27, 2024