Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wreaths Across American - Remembering Veterans

At the Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday, with the icy wind blowing against my back, my thoughts drifted to memories of high school and friends whose names are now engraved in granite. The Veterans Book of Names Memorial across from the VFW on North Main Steet honors men from East Hampton who gave the ultimate sacrifice in combat fighting for our freedom. Listed were Clarence Treadway and Patrick A. Cavanaugh from WW I; Raymond Fowler, Herbert Dix, Raymond Jones, Russell Strong, and Thomas Park WW II; Milton E. Nichols, Korea; and James H. Banning, Jr., Bernd U. Bachleda and David M. Swan, Vietnam. My thoughts were focused on the those who died in Vietnam. EH is a small, close-knit town. In the 60s, we only had a population near 5,000 and most everyone knew everyone else. At EHHS even if you didn’t know all the kids personally, you knew there faces. But I knew these three.

Jimmy Banning, a year older than me, lived around the corner on Forest Street. We were in Boy Scouts together and had gone to summer camp at Camp Tadma. He was our paper boy delivering the afternoon Middletown Press. I remember him having a great sense of humor. After graduation in 1965, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp.

From EHHS Class of 1965 yearbook - the Oracle

Bernie Bachleda who lived on Main Street, moved to EH in 1964. Bernie’s favorite sport was football and he would be at the Center School Grounds kicking a football up and down the field waiting for others to join in a pick-up game. Bernie was a great athlete and a star fullback on our 1965 soccer team that went to the State Championship. Bernie enlisted in the Army shortly after graduation in 1966, intending to follow in his father’s footsteps as a career Army officer.

From EHHS Class of 1966 yearbook - the Oracle

David Swan who graduated in 1967 was drafted into the Army as part of the massive call-up for Vietnam. He grew up on Abby Road. We played Little League Baseball, he on the Braves and me on the Cards. It still makes me sad and angry that these men lost their lives at such an early age.

From EHHS Class of 1967 yearbook - the Oracle - courtesy of Jean Barton '68

I, as well as all of us in East Hampton, should thank Linda Wallace for the tremendous effort to organize the Wreaths Across America program. Special thanks to the VFW Color Guard and all who participated including fifers Jennifer Jansenski and Karen Johansmeyer from the 3rd CT Regiment Fife and Drum Corp and remarks by Kathy Barber, President of the Ladies Auxiliary, Chaplain Laura Schnactner and Quartermaster Bruce Wark, VFW Post 5095.

Placing Memorial Wreaths at the East Hampton Veterans Memorial Monument representing the seven branches of the armed services were: EH VFW Post 5095 members from WW II Donald Tedford and Dennis Erickson and from the Cold War Rolland Jackson; Joyce Chamis, Ladies Auxiliary of VFW, Chief of Staff, District 6; Jody Drumeer, VFW Auxiliary and VFW State Teacher of the Year 2007; Robert Hodeson, Retired Chief Petty Officer Coast Guard and VFW State Teacher of the Year 2008; Kathleen Payne of Glastonbury, a member of the Nathan Hale Memorial Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. A special memorial wreath was laid in honor of Gov. William A. O'Neill, a former East Hampton resident who passed away in 2007. O'Neill had served a a tail gunner in the Korean Conflict in the U.S. Air Force.

It was a moving and well deserved tribute. I invite you to stop by the Memorial and be a part of local history.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When the Lights Went Out

Do you remember what happened in the early evening of Nov. 9, 1965? Better yet, where were you when the lights went out? On that fall evening, a goodly part of the Northeast US and Ontario Province in Canadian suffered what is arguably the largest electrical blackout in US history, throwing an estimated 30 million people and 80,000 square miles into total darkness. The cause, human error, happened days before the blackout, when personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating stations in Queenstown, Ontario. The safety relay, tripped if the current exceeded the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low. The overload cascaded throughout the Northeast in a matter of minutes.

I was a senior at EHHS, working that evening at my after school job at Thatcher’s Drug Store. Along with Donna Skinner, Carol Christopher and Fred Walton, one or more of us covered the soda fountain and front register.

Thatcher’s was a place you could get a cup of coffee, a sandwich and even a warm meal blue plate special. When the lights went out, so did the coffee pots. In those days, cash registers were electric but we often used the manual override so customers could still get a pack of cigarettes or the afternoon paper. Unlike today where we have immediate access to news, in 1965 all TV and radio stations were off the air.

Mainly we sat and speculated. Did the Soviet’s attack us? Did someone run into a utility pole? Not until the next morning was the extent of the disruption reported. Talk about a peaceful evening! Maybe a blackout now and then wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

East Hampton - West of Hampton

Several friends have inquired why “East” Hampton is so named since it is situated 35 miles west of Hampton. There is a certain oddity about this and begs the question, why? In 1748, the General Assembly granted the establishment of the East Hampton Society – the Congregational Church District. All the area on the east side of the Great River, the Connecticut River, was originally called East Middletown and included Portland, Middle Haddam, Cobalt and East Hampton and became Chatham. The Town of Chatham was incorporated in 1767. And that is where the problem begins. Hampton, which was divided off of Windham (Willimantic), became incorporated as a town in 1786.

As I had previously noted in September, our Town’s name was changed in 1915 from Chatham to East Hampton. So where did the East Hampton name come from? Shortly after settlers of Knowles Landing, later to be called Middle Haddam, petitioned for their own Congregational Society in 1738, a band of émigrés from Eastham, Massachusetts arrived. Eastham is a coastal town on Cape Cod and although many of these transplants remained tied to the shipbuilding industry that flourished in Middle Haddam, a goodly number moved inland, first to Hog Hill and then near Lake Pocotopaug, where ample acreage was available to farm. The ecclesiastical area or Society, initially took the name Eastham Town, eventually settling on the preferred two word spelling East Hampton.

Apparently the issue was never raised or questioned in 1915 when the Connecticut General Assembly changed the Town’s name after adoption at Town Meeting. Today there would be exhaustive studies and public hearings before action occurred to change a Town’s name. The fact that the area had been known as East Hampton since the 1740s evidently weighed heavily in the decision.