story and photo
by Larry Greene
Christopher Coutu contemplated the many veterans of who war that would never get a chance to see their memorial, after a 2005 visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.
From that, AmericanWarrior was born. The non-profit group has a primary mission to send as many WWII and Korean War veterans as possible to DC each year on Veterans Day.
“I believe these heroes saved the world and we should do all that we can do to send our veterans to their Memorial before it’s too late,” said Christopher, the organization’s founder and state representative, R-Norwich, at an assembly of this year’s trip participants.
Christopher started the organization by taking on $33,000 of personal credit card debt, supplemented by $10,000 from his personal savings. Christopher, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Connecticut National Guard, said that the organization now depends on a vast array of sponsor donations amounting to $300 per veteran.
The veterans take a chartered flight and arrive at the capital to a water cannon salute. After lunching at the WWII Memorial, they visit the Korean, Air Force, SeaBee, Vietnam, Marine and Navy Memorials. At the end of the day, they return home to a hero’s welcome at Bradley International Airport, Windsor Locks.
The trip is a mixture of education, elation and emotion, according to Jody Barr, trip coordinator. “On the trip back, we give the veterans letters that children have written to them,” he said.
Jack Casey, a trip organizer, heard of Christopher’s organization and decided to get involved. Jack updates a touch screen database at the WWII Memorial that holds names of many of the veterans. “Sixteen million served and there are over two million names in the database,” said Jack.
“I’m amazed at all the information at the memorial,” said Ken Fish, Groton, pointing to computer printouts of a fellow veteran and friend since childhood from back home in Maine. The 84-year-old joined the Navy and was sent overseas at the age of seventeen.
John Rose, also ex-Navy and from Groton, described his service during one of the war’s crucial turning events. “I was only 17-years-old when I hit the beach at Normandy. Luckily, the Germans were bad shots, so here I am.” He was assigned to a hospital ship and “had to make a few trips back to the beach to pick up the wounded.” He said the opening scenes of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks, were an accurate depiction of the carnage on that day.
Donations were sent by dozens of local organizations, such as the Norwich Vets Council, New London and Groton Elks, Norwich Women’s Club, Taftville Knights of Columbus, and a number of volunteer fire departments.
You can help by volunteering, help generate funds, and/or sponsor a veteran for $300. For more information, contact Sue Ponder at AmericanWarrior, PO Box 337, 35 Main Street, Versailles, CT 06363, 860.886.1874 or email@example.com.