NEWINGTON - Color has returned to the Connecticut Korean War Veterans.
Colors, actually. The group was distraught when their bag of flags went missing at the Newington Memorial Day Parade in May. Running late, members only had a few minutes to assemble their banner and American flag, leaving the remaining flags in their seven-foot flag bag by a tree at the corner of Robbins Avenue and Main Street, where marchers stepped off. When they returned to that same spot afterwards to fetch it, the bag was missing.
They worried that the expense of replacing the flags - which have marched with them in parades for decades now - would be too much for their aging members to bear.
President Jim Shelmerdine’s plea for help locating this bag went out in the Aug. 18 issue of the Newington Town Crier. A few days later, it was answered.
“I was desperate,” he said. “What are we going to do? How are we going to buy new colors? All these things were going through my mind. Monday I got a call from the person who had them and Tuesday I picked them up.”
That man was retired Newington Police Chief Richard Klett, who found the bag on the Robbins Green after the parade and took it home to store until its owner could be found.
“He was traveling pretty much the whole summer and when he got back he saw the article and contacted me,” Shelmerdine said. “I told him, ‘There is a God.’ What a great guy. His heart’s in the right place.”
Klett told Shelmerdine he is a veteran himself, having served in Vietnam and Germany. He could not be reached this week for comment on his good deed.
Last time the Connecticut Korean War Veterans’ flags went missing, they weren’t in the hands of such a well-minded person.
“Four or five years ago they were stolen from the trunk of my car in my driveway,” Shelmerdine said. “The VA found them and called me. They turned up behind a fast food place in East Hartford.”
Fellow Korean War veteran and lifelong friend Dwight Slocum carries the POW-MIA flag during parades. It’s in honor of his cousin Earl, whose story he holds close.
“Earl was on a B-17 with the 20th Bomber Squadron in World War II and it was shot down over Italy,” Slocum said. “He was the only one of ten on that aircraft who was never found. The pilot saw him jump out and his parachute open but they couldn’t find him on the ground with the others.”
Now that the group has all its gear, they need people to carry it.
“Our biggest problem now that we have the colors back is finding people to carry the colors,” Shelmerdine said.
The chapter currently has around 70 members, but only 12 are active in meetings and activities. The generation is reaching its 80s and 90s.
“Some can’t drive at night or are physically unable, some have to stay home to take care of their wives, there are many reasons for inactivity,” Shelmerdine said. “That’s why we only have three people in the parade.”
His next plea goes out to Korean War veterans who want to represent their service and that of their comrades. If interested, call Jim Shelmerdine at 860-550-4880.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.