Back from Afghanistan, Commander Nolan Keynote Speaker at Ct Trees of Honor Fundraiser
Posted on October 17, 2012
Back from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan where he commanded the 246th Engineer Detachment of the Connecticut Army National Guard, Staff Sgt. Danny Nolan served as keynote speaker October 13 at a fundraiser for the Ct Trees of Honor Memorial. The Saturday night event held at the Elks in Nolan’s hometown of Windsor, Conn. will benefit the memorial, a grove of trees planned in Middletown to honor the state’s military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting a global war on terror.
A longtime Hartford firefighter, emotions ran high for Nolan throughout his speech which included a slide presentation beginning with Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. It was there Nolan said a life altering journey began for him that led to deployments to two wars zones, first Iraq then Afghanistan.
“September 11, 2001 – our lives changed forever in positive and negative ways,” he said.
As a result of those attacks, Nolan said Americans appreciate their loved ones more and no longer take their freedoms for granted. However, that heightened sense of love and appreciation came with the price of permanent changes that run the gamut from increased airline security that some people find annoying, to lives impacted more profoundly.
“It hit me hard. It started when I was serving as a firefighter at Ground Zero,” Nolan said.
His time at Ground Zero was followed by attending numerous funerals for fallen brethren.
“I would see mothers and wives weep, their tears fell into the folds of the flags they were just handed,” he said.
For the U.S., the attacks led to two wars. The one in Iraq is now over and the other in Afghanistan being scaled back, is slated to end in the near future. Nolan’s deployments included time in Kuwait in the Persian Gulf which he described as having some beautiful landscapes. In a rare lighter moment he showed a slide of himself standing next to a camel on the desert there.
“I’m the one on the right,” he said, eliciting gentle laughter from the crowd of two hundred who attended.
In contrast Nolan said his time in war torn Iraq was quite different. His missions amid combat and violence there included mine sweeping, tank gunnery duty and helping to train and handle bomb sniffing canines. Afghanistan brought yet another set of challenges, noted Nolan, as his firefighting unit was stationed in a deeply wooded remote area making it difficult to get basic necessities like soap. Therefore, he said, he and his unit depended on the care packages from home not only for the items that were mailed but to help maintain morale. He paused to offer a special thanks to Ann Walsh, who coordinates SEND HOMETOWN WINDSOR TO THE TROOPS, a community service project of WIN-TV. She is also a member of the CT Trees of Honor Memorial Committee.
“As always, Windsor stood up to the challenge,” he said.
Part of the troops’ mission in Afghanistan is to build good relationships with the locals. Nolan said he was moved by the children, many of whom do not have shoes. So, he set out to change that. Thanks to his family and some Windsor folks who responded to Nolan’s appeal, there are little ones in Afghanistan wearing shoes for the first time.
“It was nice to put a smile on their faces,” he said.
During Nolan’s speech, an especially difficult moment came as he spoke of an infiltration that occurred earlier this year and the loss of a young comrade.
“January 8 was a bad day. The Taliban infiltrated our FOB (forward operating base) dressed as Afghan Army,” said Nolan.
In his early twenties and awaiting the birth of his and his wife’s first child, Dustin Napier of Kentucky died in that infiltration.
“I carried him to the medics as the last piece of his heart dissipated from his body,” Nolan said.
To honor the sacrifices Dustin made, Nolan now wears a memory bracelet with Dustin’s name on it and has made a point to learn about his life. Paraphrasing former President Ronald Reagan, Nolan said Dustin gave not only the life he was living, but the lives he would have lived as a father and grandfather.
Nolan then drew a parallel between Dustin and the 63 Connecticut soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They are fallen warriors,” he said,” Liberty is a precious gift each of us gets to enjoy everyday. When the day comes that this memorial is built and you walk through – look at the names, think about the stories behind each one.”
“Remember,” said Nolan, “Remember.”
In recognition of her dedication to helping with SEND HOMETOWN WINDSOR TO THE TROOPS since the age of three, Nolan presented 6-year-old Alyssa Girard, and her family Paul, Tammy and Mitchell with a flag flown by his detachment in Afghanistan.
After Nolan’s speech, bagpipe renditions -including “Amazing Grace”- were performed by the Police Pipes and Drum of Waterbury. Among their members is Jeff Vailette, an East Haven police officer who served in Iraq.
“We plan to to attend the groundbreaking for Ct Trees of Honor in Middletown,” he said.
Other speakers included Windsor Mayor Donald Trinks who paid tribute to America’s warriors. He alluded to an unpopular war in Viet Nam and the shabby treatment American soldiers received when they returned home, saying that was a mistake which should never be repeated.
“Imagine where we would be without our veterans,” said Trinks.
Viet Nam veterans Robert Treichel, Sr. of New Britain and John Scanlon of Cheshire accompanied by Elaine Poplawski of Cheshire said they learned about plans for the memorial grove of trees after the announcement of a site selection this summer. Since then, they have been supporting the project.
“We want to make sure these men and women are not forgotten,” they said.
Ct Trees of Honor Memorial was a dream of committee chair, Sue Martucci of Bloomfield. She and committee member Peter Galgano said the next step is to get funding. If they are “between a rock and a hard place” Martucci said they will seek state grant money but the preference of the committee is to secure private and public donations.
Two weeks ago, she said veterans in Middletown made a pledge to help. According to Martucci, the sixty-three Connecticut military personnel lost in Iraq and Afghanistan came from across the state. Her hope is that more fundraisers like the pasta dinner held in Windsor (with help from Dom’s Broad Street Eatery) will take place in other towns throughout Connecticut.
In addition to pasta dinners, pancake breakfasts, raffles, dinner dances and tournaments, Martucci said the committee is open to other creative ideas for fundraisers. For example, on October 26, students at Middlesex Community College will host a hot dog sale to benefit the cause. Money raised will go into a general fund to pay for the memorial.
Three types of trees are planned so that there will be cascading blossoms over the seasons. One way to help is the through the adopt a garden program. As well, there is a Buy-A-Brick program, becoming a volunteer, becoming a sponsor, hosting a fundraiser or making a donation to the non-profit CT Trees of Honor, Inc. (CTHM,Inc.) c/o Colleen Dowd, Treasurer, P.O.Box 234, Windsor, Conn. 06095.
For more information visit http://www.cttreesofhonor.com or call Martucci at 860-841-4287.