By Lisa Capobianco
For veteran Edison Occhi, the Korean War continues to serve as a vivid memory full of heartache and pain. He served 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and enlisted at the age of 17-and-half after attending trade school.
From September 1950 to January 1952, he fought during the Korean War.
Wounded twice, Occhi said he feels lucky to be alive today, especially since he lost friends in the line of duty.
“Death was very uncertain and swift,” said Occhi, who recalled how the summer months reached up to 110 degrees and then below zero during the winter months in Korea. “I was fortunate to make it back. Someone was watching over me.”
On Monday Occhi participated in the annual Veterans Day celebration hosted by the American Legion Post 72 on the green, saluting in his military uniform. For Occhi, the ceremony served as a meaningful reminder of why he fought during the war. During the celebration, he received an honorary certificate from the Legion in recognition of his service.
“I am proud to serve my country,” Occhi said. “Freedom is not free, and someone had to pay the price to make us free.”
With the help of Southington Town Hall, past commander John DeMello and the Legion conducted research to find the names of local veterans from town who served during the Korean War since this year marks the 60th anniversary of the historical event, which ended in an armistice. Over a span of less than two weeks, the town found close to 700 names of veterans from Southington and a few outside the town.
“War is brutal, you just do what you have to do,” Occhi said.
Members of the Legion provided certificates, printed by the Department of Defense, to veterans who are members of Post #72 from the Korean War era as well as to other veterans out of state or in other cities in Connecticut.
“It gives vets and their families something to be proud of,” DeMello said. “It will bring pride back in their hearts.”
Besides honoring Korean War veterans, the Legion, along with town officials and state representatives paid tribute to all veterans, recognizing the role they played in American freedom too. The Knights of Columbus placed a white cross below the flag pole in front of the Legion’s office to commemorate all comrades buried overseas.
“It is the soldiers that do the footwork, it is the soldiers that fight,” said former town councilor Dr. Al Natelli, who announced that over 120 pounds of candy will be donated to veterans overseas on behalf of the Southington Dental Associates for its Halloween Candy Buy Back drive.
The ceremony also resonated with Richard Krampitz Sr., who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. His brother, Edward Christensen, who served in the U.S. Marines, died in battle at the age of 19, leaving a wife and unborn child behind.
“I am here to pay respect to all our veterans, to see old friends, and to pay respects to my brother,” Krampitz said.