Sept. 15, 2016
ANDOVER — For Gerry Wright, unveiling the town’s first war trophy at Veterans Monument Park on Route 6 is just the beginning of honoring those who served in the armed forces.
That remembrance will begin with a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, with U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney and state veterans affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly expected to attend.
The event includes the dedication of a World War II cannon seized from Japanese troops. Wright, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is researching the soldiers of the 169th Regiment, 43rd Division, who retrieved the weapon.
The event pays tribute to the solders’ sacrifice, he said. “I’m honored to honor them for their part in World War II.”
Saturday’s dedication is expected to draw a large crowd, Wright said. A color guard presentation and performance of the national anthem by Andover Elementary School students will commence the program.
Opening remarks from Wright, First Selectmen Robert Burbank, Courtney, and Connolly will preface the cannon’s unveiling and plaque presentation.
The ceremony also includes a musket and cannon salute, followed by taps, a benediction, music, and Wright’s closing remarks, he said.
The Andover Historical Museum will open on site following the program, and there will be a family event at the town gazebo featuring barbeque and children’s activities.
Wright has worked since 2011 to acquire a wartime artifact for Veterans Monument Park.
When declining revenue forced VFW Post 2046 in Manchester to close, Wright received approval from post Cmdr. Robert Russell to move the World War II cannon that had stood in front of the post since 1945 to Andover.
In May, Wright brought the 37mm Japanese anti-tank gun to Gary Nadeau, a wheelwright from Hebron, for general maintenance.
The town is the legal custodian of the cannon, although the U.S. Department of Defense maintains ownership.
The park was created after the Department of Transportation in 1992 realigned the intersection of routes 6 and 316.
Residents in 2007 began maintaining the unkempt area before the state turned over the land to the town in 2009. That year, the Board of Selectmen dedicated the area to local veterans and 75 donors raised $5,000 for a sign and lighting in 2010.
The town’s Beautification Committee, local landscaping businesses, and residents have maintained the park over the years, said Dianne Grenier, a member of the committee organizing the restoration and ceremony.
A fundraiser to pay for site preparations for the cannon drew $3,325 from 45 donors mostly in Andover, though people from Vernon, Mansfield, Hebron, Bolton, and one donor from South Carolina also contributed, she said.
The Andover Farmers market donated $500, and Ron’s Professional Lawn Care Services cleared the area and poured concrete for the display.
“We are fortunate to have so many generous residents who care deeply about our town and our veterans,” said Grenier. “This is what living in a small town is all about.”
The park’s first wartime artifact legitimizes the space, Wright said, as its presence supports the slogan “peace through strength.”
Wright has learned a lot about the cannon’s history but is continuing to do research.
“This is history, and I don’t want it to stop here,” Wright said. “If we don’t dig into it now there won’t be anything to get a hold of in 15 to 20 years.”
In World War II, Japanese forces built security barriers and airbases throughout the Solomon Islands to protect their flanks in New Guinea.
American soldiers in 1945 traveled through jungles and thick swamps to defeat the Japanese forces overlooking the valley where the cannon was located.
The cannon’s trek to the United States began when Vernon native Tech Sgt. Wilbert N. “Duke” Baldwin liberated and Capt. George Elliott, packaged and transported the cannon through the U.S. Navy.
Elliott began shipping the cannon’s pieces to his wife in Manchester, asking her to leave the packages unopened until his return, Wright was told by Sharon Morin, the captain’s granddaughter who called the veteran when she heard of the ceremony.
Around 28 years after the cannon was donated to the East Center Street post, Elliott was the grand marshal in Manchester’s 1973 Memorial Day parade, sitting beside his company’s shining achievement.
For the unit’s contributions, U.S. Route 7 between Danbury and Norwalk was named the 43rd Infantry Division Memorial Highway.
According to research by Wright and Manchester Town Clerk Joseph Camposeo, Baldwin received a Bronze Star and Elliott the Purple Heart and other recognitions for his leadership of the 169th during the liberation of the Philippines.
Born in 1907, Elliott died in 1974; he and Baldwin are buried in East Cemetery in Manchester.
Wright also learned Elliott began his military career in the Navy during World War I before joining the Army, and retiring as a colonel in the Connecticut National Guard. In Elliott’s later years, he was a long-time caretaker for all cemeteries in Manchester, Morin said.
Morin and Elliott’s great granddaughter, Allison Cerasoloi, will attend Saturday’s ceremony.