Valley honors fallen despite canceled parade
SHELTON — Cancellation of the annual Derby-Shelton Memorial Day parade did not stop area veterans from paying homage to all fallen soldiers.
American Legion Post 16 opened the day with a special ceremony at the Veterans Memorial at Riverwalk about 9:30 a.m., following by the ceremonial dropping of the wreath off the Derby-Shelton bridge, followed by a rifle salute.
Moments later, Russ Avery played taps on the bridge at 10:01 a.m. with echo played by Bruce Collins at Veterans Park on the River Walk. Taps echoed up and down the Housatonic River with buglers spaced about a mile apart in most areas.
What is normally a major presentation, with large crowds encircling the spot, this year’s dropping of the wreath was a more private event, with the coronavirus pandemic preventing large gatherings of people for the last several weeks.
World War II veteran Jay Eugster, who landed troops at Utah Beach on D-Day, dropped the wreath. A member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Eugster served as a helmsman on a Higgins Boat Landing Craft. He saw duty in both the Africa and European theaters during the war.
Eugster joined the Coast Guard at the age of 20 on July 18, 1942, in New York City. He was assigned to the Navy ship USS Joseph Dickman, APA-13, which specialized in landing troops on beaches for invasions.
He moved up the ranks and became a helmsman, steering the 13,000-ton landing craft to its beach landing destinations. On Nov. 8, 1942, his ship participated in the beach landing in Morocco.
His ship safely landed 30 troops onto the beach, but his boat broke apart because of the rough surf. He ended up stranded on the beach, but him and his crew were luckily picked up by another landing craft and returned to the ship.
In 1943, he conducted beach landing operations at the beaches in Sicily and Salerno, Italy.
After some leave time and repairs to the ship, Eugster’s crew went into training in Plymouth, England, preparing for the Normandy invasion scheduled for June. The invasion was postponed June 5 due to heavy rain, but was rescheduled for June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. He landed troops at Utah Beach.
For the remainder of his time in the service, Eugster was reassigned to Bay Head, N.J., and mustered out in December 1945.