As Veteran’s Day approaches, Sunday, Nov. 11, America honors their veterans with a day of their own, a day that gives every rightful veteran the ability to talk, boast and reminisce about their military service with their fellow veterans, friends and family members.
The Town of Southington has an amazing military history of men and women, who have served and died in the name of freedom and democracy. Over the years, some of us served with and had the distinct privilege to have talked with some amazing veterans. They talked about their experiences and places they were sent, unbelievable and remarkable stories that are noted in books and movies.
The talk was never the same, what their eyes have seen, their hearts have felt, and the pain of each veteran’s mind. Some are still being chased by demons.
One such talk we had was with U.S. Army World War II veteran, Leon Doolittle from Marion. He was severely wounded in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. He came to know a 19-year-old Belgium girl that worked in an orphanage, and he credits her with helping to save his life.
Leon talked about the fighting and a German officer he met while dying. The horrific days of the battle were documented in a book. Leon never talked about his military war experience until later in life. He spoke about the two days leading to his release from the Germans, and the little life he had left in his body.
It was 60 years later when Leon returned to Belgium, and he met the Belgium girl who comforted him those many years ago. He was met by the Belgium people who are to grateful to the Americans GIs that helped save their country over a half century earlier. He saw so many American flags flown around the country side thanking America.
Leon’s history was documented by Ken DiMauro and myself. He mentioned his missing military medals, so I made a request, and shortly thereafter, Leon was presented with various medals, including the Bronze Star.
People told him that it was nice to meet a hero, but Leon stated, “I am no hero. I made it back. The true heroes are the ones that died and never returned home.”
Leon passed away in 2016. His wife, Jane, died in 2011.
Leon’s history is documented in the Library of Congress archives. He talked about his family and missing his wife so much. During the times visiting Leon to document the story, his dog Lily would want to be heard. It was a few weeks after Leon passed away that Lily died.
We all have stories about our service. We made lasting friendships and our youth turned into an age that ultimately began to take our lives. Time was never on our side. Some of us lost friends in war; some succumbed to injuries and illnesses associated with war and military service.
In Connecticut, we have an outstanding Veterans Administration, VET Centers and State Veterans Home and Hospital. The VA system has become more efficient with outstanding treatment, facilities around the country, medical experts, doctors, nurses, clinicians and staff.
In 2013 a state statute mandated the 169 Connecticut towns in Connecticut to create a veteran contact person—or a town committee like the Town of Southington Veterans Committee—that is committed to veterans and their families, to guide them to resources, contacts, and assistance, and in the case of Leon, to make requests for military medals and honors.
The committee has been aided with great partnerships that we have forged with local, state and federal agencies and groups.
Thank you for your service.
John DeMello is a member of the Southington Veterans Committee. The committee can be reached at Town Hall, 75 Main St., by phone at (860) 276-6299, or by email at SouthingtonVets@southington.org.