The Family Y Salutes Local Veterans at Annual Luncheon

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Young veterans and Y employees Andrew Myers and Brandon Arias with Joan Vitali, luncheon coordinator.

Young veterans and Y employees Andrew Myers and Brandon Arias with Joan Vitali, luncheon coordinator.

They served their country in war zones and outposts the world over — from Korea to Kandahar, from Australia to the Aleutians, from France to Saigon. Some are hardly in their 20s, other are nearing 90.

Our nation’s military veterans all share a deep, abiding bond. As Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn said in his invocation at the Westport Weston Family Y’s annual Veterans Luncheon, held Friday, November 1, “Some might have stood by. You stood up — and for that we are indebted to you, we are humbled by you.”

Ed Van Gelder spoke of serving as a B-25 navigator stationed in Australia, flying 44 missions in eight months. After Hiroshima, he completed his military duty overseas by ferrying home internees and POWs liberated from Japanese camps across the South Pacific.

“There are good wars, and there are necessary wars,” said Van Gelder. “World War II was a good war, not only because we were attacked and had to defend ourselves, but because we had the support of every American.”

Andrew Myers stood before his fellow veterans and put it this way: “Thank you, guys. You are the reason I served.”

Myers enlisted in the Army during his junior year at Staples, in 2009. He served as a combat engineer in Afghanistan during operation Enduring Freedom, from April 2012 to this past February, and continues as a Specialist in the Army Reserves. Myers also works as a Lifeguard at the Family Y, while attending Norwalk Community College.

Joining him at the luncheon was his fellow veteran, fellow Y staffer – and cousin – Brandon Arias. Brandon, a 2006 Staples graduate, entered the Army in 2008 and served with Andrew in Afghanistan as a combat medic. A Sergeant in the Army Reserves, Brandon is a Swim Instructor at the Y.

“We’re happy to be back,” said Arias. “Most of the time, it’s ‘business as usual’ for us, unless you meet another vet. Then you trade stories…”

Family Y CEO Rob Reeves with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport.

Family Y CEO Rob Reeves with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport.

Said Larry Aasen, who served in the 13th Airborne in France from 1943 to 1946, “Each year we thank the Y for this luncheon, and each year my stories get more colorful!”

The Family Y proudly hosts this luncheon each year, and aside from the veterans’ personal reminiscences, this year’s event was doubly special. Superstorm Sandy forced the cancellation of last year’s luncheon, with the Y out of commission for all of November 2012.

“This is a year of ‘lasts’ for our Y,” said Bonnie Strittmatter, President of the Y’s volunteer Board of Directors in her welcoming comments to the luncheon’s special guests, “among them, this is the last time we will host our Veterans Luncheon at our downtown Y.”

“In fact,” Strittmatter told our honored guests, “Today — November 1 — marks the one-year deadline of when we contractually have to be out of this building. But judging from the progress to date on our new Y facility, we expect our beautiful new facility will be ready by late next summer, and we look forward to honoring our military veterans with a special luncheon in our new home next fall.”

The Family Y extends its gratitude to all military veterans, saluting their service and sacrifice to our nation.

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