Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Vermont "Sentimental Journey" Honors World War II Vets, LIke My Dad

My dad, Henry "Red" Sutkoski, 95, catches up with
friends during a World War II Memorial unveiling
in his home town of West Rutland, Vermont Saturday.  
My father, Henry "Red" Sutkoski, now 95, says he remembers when World War II ended, the troop ship carrying him and fellow soldiers returned home and prepared to dock in Boston Harbor.

A tug boat pulled up along side the troop ship dad was on. Suddenly, a band on the tug boat started playing "Sentimental Journey" to welcome the returning soldiers.

To this day, "Sentimental Journey" is just about dad's favorite song.

Fast forward 70 years later and there we were, in West Rutland, Vermont Saturday, where dad has lived most of his life, taking another sentimental journey, this one returning back to World War II.

Saturday was the 70th anniversary of World War II's end, and also the day West Rutland unveiled a memorial to all the people from West Rutland who'd served in World War II.

There was a lot of 'em, considering the town only had about 3,000 residents at the time. About 600 West Rutland residents served in World War II, or about 20 percent of the town's population.

Few World War II veterans survive to this day, of course. My dad was an honored guest at the memorial unveiling, along with a few other surviving West Rutland veterans like Joe Czachor, Leo DiGangi, Charlie Katomski and Stanley Wos.

The story of how West Rutland's new World War II memorial came to be is its own sentimental journey, one graced with an overwhelming need to honor the town's World War II heroes.

On Facebook, people began to wonder what happened to an old memorial that had to be taken down years ago because it had deteriorated.
A nice crowd gathers in front of the West Rutland, Vermont
Town Hall Saturday for the unveiling of a
World War II memorial.  

The town's historical society had a World War II discussion one night and somebody came up with the idea for a new memorial.  The idea took hold, big time.

Lots of research, lots of community fundraising and lots of planning over several years led to this new World War II memorial that was unveiled Saturday.

The memorial, listing all 609 men and women from West Rutland who served in the war, is in a place of honor at the most prominent place in West Rutland, right in front of the community's handsome Town Hall.

On Saturday, the guest speaker was retired Senior Master Air Force Sergeant Rick Aldridge. He's too young to have served in World War II, but the West Rutland native who served a long, proud career in the military announced at the beginning of his talk that he would take the audience on a sentimental journey back to those war years.

I don't know if Aldridge's announcement that his talk would be a sentimental journey was a nod to my dad or not,  but Aldridge told the story of the quarry workers, farmers, merchants and others from West Rutland who answered the call of duty to fight in the war, because that's just what had to be done.

Aldridge described how everyone else left behind in West Rutland during the war coped with strict rationing, the worry over what the Axis dictators would do if they were not defeated, and fear for the fate of their loved ones literally battling to save democracy.

After the war, the returning West Rutland veterans picked up their lives. Some stayed put in the quarrying community, others set off to start educations, careers, families elsewhere in the nation.

Aldridge remarked how the people of the World War II era are always referred to as the "Greatest Generation."

He's right, of course. If I had to judge a "Greatest Generation" by the way my father has lived his life, he truly lived the life of someone who deserves that title.

Through the decades, through his successes, his mistakes, his fortitude, cheerful stubborness and especially his sense of humor, dad has always been a model of how to live a life with dignity and grace.

So many people from the "Greatest Generation" are like dad, too. In this era of screaming, bickering TV pundits, a "gimme gimme" culture, opportunistic politicians, corrupt business people, routine dishonesty and other ills of today's society, we'd all do well to take careful notes on how the "Greatest Generation" lived their lives during and after the war.

My generation, the ones after that, and the ones who aren't even born yet should just take a sentimental journey and look back at what the World War II generation did.

They say the Greatest Generation made America great. That's true. They also say America isn't as great as it once was. Maybe that's true, too.

All the more reason why we should really embrace the ethos of the World War II veterans. Like the ones gathered in West Rutland on Saturday. Like my dad.

The World War II memorial unveiling in West Rutland Saturday sent me on my own sentimental journey, reflecting on the lessons my dad taught me. The example if his life, teaches me, teaches everyone, how to live honorable.

I don't measure up to my dad's level, of course, but at least he's a guide that puts me on the right path and keeps me from veering off course into too much laziness, meanness, or selfishness.

Maybe if we all follow the steadiness and honor of World War II veterans, this country might yet have another "Greatest Generation"

That would be the ultimate way to thank all the World War II heroes, like my dad.

Also, dad? Here's that song you like. Thank you. For everything.

1 comment:

  1. Matt:
    Red and Joe played an integral part of how my speech came out. I struggled and struggled on format, content etc.. I was at my most down point when I looked at my noted from interviewing those two brave heroes and it hit me; they both mentioned Sentimental Journey!!!!! When I opened my speech, I acknowledged them both for providing me the inspiration for the Speech and I asked everyone to sit back and listen to the Sentimental Journey I was about to take everyone on. The Greatest Generation and their story was truly a Sentimental Journey!!!