story & photo
by John Stratton
A cloudless blue sky, still-flourishing green foliage, and ranks of white headstones receding into the distance: the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown is a beautiful and somber place, reflecting the just honor of those lost in battle or through the passage of time.
And now, a major contingent of the state’s veterans—those from the 43rd Infantry Division, known as “Winged Victory”—has its own monument commemorating their bravery and sacrifice in World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War.
The monument was unveiled in September 22 at the expansive veterans’ cemetery, attended by fellow troops, many from the division’s World War II days, who listened to praise from state and local officials. Division personnel initially were consolidated from National Guard units from New England, and the four sides of the monument remember the contributions of each state in varied conflicts. The ceremonies were opened by a posting of the colors by the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps of Plainville.
Some $28,000 was raised from direct contributions of vets and their families to build the granite monument, adorned with brass plaques citing key battles of the division’s regiments in the Pacific, in Europe, and in the outposts of the Cold War. The 43d Division is known as the “Winged Victory Division” derived from the name of its longtime combat commander, Major General Leonard F. Wing. The 43rd was the only Division to serve in four theaters of the WWII Pacific campaign—South Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Philippines, and Japan.
“Over the years, the servicemen of the 43rd won two Medals of Honor, 11,000 medals, and thousands of Purple Hearts,” said David Thiede, secretary-treasurer of the 1,200-member 43rd Infantry Division Veterans Association, which was founded in Japan in 1945 and held its first reunion in 1947 at the Camp Niantic training center on the Niantic River. David’s father, Walter, was a Master Sergeant in World War II, and David sees the monument as a tribute both to his father and to the many who served with him. The monument also symbolizes the 43rd’s long-standing scholarship fund, which has aided many vets and dependents over the years.
Middletown Mayor Daniel T. Drew called the monument “a fitting memorial to have here in the City of Middletown; they did not know what the outcome would be… but the vets of the 43rd literally saved the world.”
Linda Schwartz, Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Veterans Affairs, referred to the cemetery as “a place where valor proudly sleeps–I welcome this memorial to our cemetery.”
Retired Colonel William T. Coffey, Sr., who is the national commander of the 43rd Infantry Division Veterans Association, remembered the words from the June 5, 1944, diary of a soldier killed on D-Day: “He’d written to his family, ‘If I don’t make it, tell my family that I gave my today for their tomorrow.’”
story & photo