By Lorraine Connelly
The month of November offers us three opportunities for meaningful observance: Election Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. In 1845, Congress passed a federal law designating the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as Election Day. Congress passed a bill in 1954 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 to be Veterans Day, honoring the millions of Americans who have answered the call to serve by taking the sacred oath to defend and preserve our nation’s ideals of liberty and democracy.
And on September 28, 1789, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the president of the United States recommend to the nation a day of Thanksgiving. A few days later President George Washington issued a proclamation establishing Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” — the first time this national observance was celebrated under the new Constitution. Along with the sacred civil right of voting — service and giving thanks, have become part of the woven fabric of our nation.
This week, the Rotary of Club of Wallingford recognized local veterans and honored their military service at the VFW Post 591 on Prince Street. It was there that I met Lt. Colonel Rosemary De Angelis, a retired Air Force and Army nurse who served in the military for 23 years.
A native of Wallingford, Rosemary remembers the nursing care she received on being admitted to St. Raphael’s Hospital as a young child. The indelible impression of this experience instilled in her a desire to become a nurse. After high school, she attended Hartford Hospital School of Nursing for three years, and subsequently received a B.S. in Health Science and her B.S.N. in nursing before entering the Air Force. She was stationed at a pilot-training base in Texas from 1964-1966. Rosemary remembers wistfully, “My roommate and I dated some of the young fighter pilots there who were later sent to Vietnam and never returned.”
Rosemary was back in Connecticut when she received news of her own brother’s death. PFC Richard De Angelis, an Army combat medic, was killed in the Vietnam province of Hua Nghia on October 16, 1968. Rosemary remembers her parents were en route to Florida to visit her aunt when they received word of their son’s death. “It was a disastrous time, both for our family and the town,” she related. “A week earlier, another Wallingford boy, Army Sergeant Bobby Miglierina, was killed in action.” In total, 12 Wallingford men gave their lives in service to their country during the Vietnam conflict.
Rosemary’s brother, Richard, was in-country for only six weeks when he was killed by a mortar attack. He was 32 years old and left behind a wife and a seven-year-old son. He was awarded a Bronze Star and posthumously received a Silver Star for gallantry in action. According to his citation, “With complete disregard for his own safety, Richard made 15 trips across 100 meters of bullet swept-terrain to distribute ammunition to his comrades.”
Says Rosemary, “While the medals he received were well deserved, the entire family — my parents, his wife, his son, and myself would have preferred to have him with us. He missed out on so much.” Rosemary went on to serve in the Connecticut Air National Guard for nine years, and the Army Reserves for 12 years before returning to civilian life.
As Rosemary was relating the story of her family’s service, I was struck by the qualifications for the Silver Star Medal (SSM), the nation’s third-highest military decoration, “valor in combat and gallantry in action.” Notions of “valor” and “gallantry in action,” even in the broadest, non-military sense, seem largely absent from contemporary social consciousness.
Last month, the state reeled after the deaths of two Bristol police officers who were killed in a suspected ambush. Locally, in Wallingford, juveniles set fire to the playscape at Doolittle Park. We heard Police Chief John Ventura address the Town Council saying, “The concept of respect for law enforcement needs to be reestablished in society.” Civic respect and responsibility have much in common with the selfless sacrifice and valor that we celebrate in this month; and these qualities seem, presently, to be in short supply.
There is a pressing need for what the Brookings Institution defines as a civil society referring to “an array of fine institutions that nobody can possibly be against: churches that run great teen pregnancy and after-school programs, neighborhood crime-watch groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Little Leagues, book clubs, veterans’ groups, Shriners and Elks.” I might add to that group, Rotary International, whose principal motto is Service Above Self.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are thankful for both the actions and the examples of those individuals who served this nation, like Rosemary and Richard. We also honor those civic organizations that are upholding the notion of “gallantry in action” in their own ways as we desperately try to mend the fabric of a society that has been compromised by division, conflict, and service to self that our veterans could not abide.
Lorraine Connelly is a writer and a member of the board of directors of the Wallingford Chapter of Rotary International.