Stamford’s Rich History of Military Service to our Country
It is not an overstatement to characterize Veterans Memorial Park as hallowed ground. For our city, this ground has had enormous significance to countless generations of citizens. It was on this exact site in 1641 that the settlement of Stamford was founded by 29 courageous families who left the comfort of their settlement in Wethersfield, Connecticut to find a new life.
This site became the home of the town’s first Meeting House as well as the home of the First Congregational Church. Some thirty years after the town’s founding, this area also became the home of Stamford’s first public schoolhouse. For hundreds of years thereafter, it became the center of downtown Stamford, a hub and a gathering place for its citizens which was known in later years as Central Park and Atlantic Square.
As Stamford evolved from a farming community to an industrial hub in the 19th and 20th centuries, the park took on added significance, located at the intersection of the two main local arteries, Main Street and Atlantic Street and in later years right across from the Town Hall which was constructed in 1905.
When the United States entered the Second World War, this site was chosen as the home of the town’s Service Roll which displayed the names of local citizens who served the country during that war. The Service Roll also identify, with a Gold Star, those who lost their lives during the war. On Memorial Day1943, the iconic white triangular structure was dedicated. An estimated ten thousand citizens turned out to watch the unveiling of the Service Roll, which included the names of 5,500 men and women. Inscribed above the names was “These be our valiant sons and daughters who have gone in jeopardy of their lives – let none be found wanting.”
Ultimately, by war’s end, there would be nearly 10,000 names on the Service Roll with close to 200 marked with the Gold Star. For decades, the distinctive structure would be a place where adults and children would gather when visiting the park to find the name of a family member, friend or loved one who served in the war and also to reflect on the town’s many contributions to the war.
In the early 1970s, Urban Renewal began to reshape Stamford’s downtown area. Among the casualties was the Service Roll which was unceremoniously demolished. Never again would the 10,000 names of those who served be preserved in one place.
However, in 1977, due in large part to the tireless efforts of local veteran Tony Pia, a new Veterans Memorial Park was dedicated on this historic site. The signature elements of the park were four, 37 ton granite vertical monoliths each depicting FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want. One of the monoliths housed the Memorial Wall which paid tribute to those who gave their lives during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and in the Global War on Terror. Another distinctive feature in the park was a statue depicting a Doughboy as an homage to World War I.
The park served the town well for almost four decades but time took its toll and the park was in need of revitalization. In 2013, a group of citizens joined together with the purpose of restoring and re-energizing Veterans Memorial Park. In partnership with the City Of Stamford, the State of Connecticut and through the generosity of several local citizens and corporations, the ambitious project was realized. On November 11, 2019, Phase I of the new Veterans Memorial Park was dedicated. The mission of the park is to once again become the hub of the downtown area, a cultural and educational center where adults and children alike can gather and reflect on the contributions of our local veterans who fought and died to preserve our democracy. The new park will pay tribute to Stamford’s contributions throughout our history. Although the four monoliths and the Doughboy statue have been relocated, they will remain the central focus of the park. The Memorial Wall will be updated and expanded to include the names of those gave their lives in defense of this country from the French and Indian War in 1754 to today’s Global War on Terror. The park will also include a Gold Star Families Memorial honoring local families who lost a loved one in defense of our nation. A Blue Star Monument, paying tribute to families who have members in harms way, a statue honoring Homer Lee Wise, a local Congressional Medal of Honor recipient as well as tributes to other local veterans. In addition to these new features, the park will remain a work in progress, a growing and evolving work, which will continue to add elements which will highlight Stamford’s history.
Stamford’s Veterans Memorial Park will be a reminder to all, of the great price of living in a free society. It will also be a symbol of the city’s rich past and promising future. Most importantly, the park is meant to be a fitting tribute to the great citizens of Stamford who served their country with honor and distinction.