Story and photo by Sandy MacKay
The new American Legion Veterans Housing apartment complex in Jewett City, first of its kind in US has 18 fully equipped apartments, two of which are fully handicapped accessible, everything state of the art.
The main entrance has a welcoming glass lobby with the American Legion logo emblazoned above the door.
Today, a large red, white, and blue ribbon is stretched between two gleaming white pillars, as if to say that this day really is a long-overdue gift to those who sacrificed for our country.
At the opening on July 11, the Patriot Guard Riders assemble in a line along the sidewalk holding their flags.
Under a tent in the parking lot I interview William Czmyr, the initiator who had been the LaFlamme-Kusek American Legion Post 15 Commander back in 2002. His major task back then was to solve the problem of an ailing building that the Jewett City Post could not afford to fix on its own, let alone maintain.
Czmyr recalls the Post’s discussions of the needs of many veterans…and a possible use for their building.
He said that it all came down to the general question, “Why not house homeless vets here? We have the military creed of leaving no comrade behind—and what are we doing for our homeless veterans?”
Czmyr continues, “So I took these ideas to five or six contractors who came to look at the building, but none ever got back to me. I kept pressing on until I ran into Ed Burke, who is currently the Veteran Affairs Representative for Congressman Joe Courtney. Ed then took the Post’s vision to Dr. Laurie Harkness of the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
“The project started to move forward. Post 15 had to create a nonprofit entity, called the TALVHI Project, and form a board.” TALVHI, which stands for The American Legion Veterans Housing Inc., would be the fundraising and planning entity to turn the building into a facility worthy of our vets.
“With state cutbacks threatening to stop the project,” Czmyr remembers, “the Post held a protest, picketing in front of the building in the rain. The news quoted us as saying, ‘the homeless vets are out there in this rain, we can not stop!’”
My interview with Czmyr ends as the ceremony starts. A large crowd fills the tent and Project Partners are in position in preparation for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting by Czmyr and remarks by officials.
Mark Czmyr, Master of Ceremonies, Post 15 Commander, and William’s son, officiated and introduced his father, now TALVHI President, to a standing ovation. Then came Wayne Morgan, Department Senior Vice-Commander, Connecticut American Legion; Dr. Laurie Harkness, VA Connecticut Healthcare System; Eric Chatman, Executive Director, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority; Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Senator, Connecticut; Joe Courtney, U.S. Congressman, Connecticut’s Second District; and Admiral Richard P. Breckenridge, U.S. Navy, Commander, Submarine
Ten years of work and the resulting thanks resound as the speakers are heard. Each thanks William Czmyr for his steadfast work. Joe Courtney also thanks his own Veteran Affairs Rep, Ed Burke, for his ability to keep the project on course. The congressman then introduces the keynote speaker, Admiral Richard P. Breckenridge.
The admiral first mentions that, he works closely with Congress and in particular, Joe Courtney, and that they had both been present at the commissioning of the USS Mississippi (SSN-782) in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and that he felt that Joe gave a very inspirational speech at that event.
Courtney, observing that he was a Yankee in the deep South, and was in “enemy territory” as a Northerner, said that there is a trend in the country that has become very divisive—such as in Red States, Blue States, North, South, and such.
But, he said, these times also press us to come together in a cause that is worth fighting for, as he has seen in the Borough of Jewett City.
As I listened, his words found the depths of my own experience. At the end of the applause I was barely able to focus on the followup speaker, Avery Tillinghast of the Home At Last Campaign Council, with his presentation of residual follow-up funds totaling $450,000.
As the ceremony ended, I was standing in front of the admiral: I told him with half a tear in my eye what his words meant to me as a veteran who was once homeless, that there could be no better way to tell the story of this magnificent 10-year-quest by Bill Czmyr and his allies.
You may read the admiral’s speech at http://www.theresident.com/2012/07/04/admiral-breckenridge-welcomes-veterans-to-a-new-home