The pomp and circumstance of this year’s Veterans Day parade in Naugatuck was marred by the knowledge of what had transpired over the weekend.
As members of the Naugatuck VFW Post No. 1946 were replacing American flags at grave sites Saturday evening at St. James Cemetery — the final resting place for more than 1,800 veterans — four boxes of flags were stolen.
“When I got the call, I was speechless,” said John DeBisschop, a U.S. Navy veteran and chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans Council. “It sort of boggles my mind that someone would stoop so low as to steal flags from veterans who were trying to honor fellow veterans by placing flags at their grave sites.”
Those 576 flags cost the Naugatuck Veterans Council about $400, said DeBisschop, who is also a Naugatuck firefighter.
Police Investigate the ‘Despicable’ Crime
Naugatuck Police Detective Sgt. Paul Markette took the call on Saturday from the veterans. He took a statement from DeBisschop and the VFW vets about what transpired. Markette was nearly as upset as the veterans.
“This makes me mad because these guys served our country and many died while doing so,” he said. “To take from veterans who are trying to honor other vets is just despicable.”
Police are actively investigating the case. Anyone who has information is asked to contact the Naugatuck Police Department at 203-729-5222.
Flags Honor Fallen Veterans
DeBisschop explained that the Veterans Council replaces the flags at veterans’ grave sites throughout the community twice a year: before Veterans Day and Memorial Day. They split up the work between various local veterans groups, including the VFW and the American Legion Post No. 17.
The Veterans Council purchases all of the flags and distributes them to the various organizations, which sometimes receive help from people in the community. City Hill Middle School typically helps replace flags at St. James, which has the most veterans of any cemetery in Naugatuck.
This year, DeBisschop decided to buy the flags for the entire year, so he had four additional boxes that he brought to St. James on Saturday night after the theft. He and the VFW vets made sure all of the vet graves had brand new flags in time for Veterans Day.
Now, the Veterans Council hopes police can locate whoever is responsible for the thefts.
“We know it’s going to be difficult to find someone, but we’re hoping,” DeBisschop said.
Out of Place in This Patriotic Community
Veterans Day is a major affair in Naugatuck, Conn., a borough that more than 2,300 veterans call home.
There are veterans programs in schools, convivial events at local establishments where veterans gather, and a Veterans Day parade through the center of town.
On Monday afternoon, despite the theft over the weekend, veterans marched alongside youth groups and local and state politicians – even two U.S. senators and a congressman joined the parade on Church Street.
Mayor Bob Mezzo, who marched in the parade, said he was disgusted with what he called a senseless act.
"There is no act, no matter how pathetic or heartless as the theft of American flags from the graves of veterans, that could diminish the reverence that this community has for our amazing veterans," he said. "I know in my heart that the overwhelming attendance at the Veterans Day parade and ceremony after it is much more a function of what Naugatuck is about than some senseless act of theft."