BRISTOL – Dick Fitz is pushing 95 and jokes that “I probably look 105.” As one of the last of Bristol’s World War II veterans, he spent Thursday morning talking about the lessons of the past to a new generation of high school students.
Standing in front of the WWII monument on Memorial Boulevard, he told a group of 10th graders from Bristol Eastern High School, “every time you come down the boulevard please do me a favor, at least say ‘thank you’ – thank you to all these fellas that paid the price.”
This is the 19th year local veterans like Fitz have gathered by the monuments on the boulevard to talk to students about U.S. involvement in wars from the American Revolution to today, as a prelude to Memorial Day.
Lori DeFillippi, financial administrative specialist, with the Veterans Affairs office in Newington, said the tradition started when her daughter was in third grade at the old Jennings School.
“We have the veterans from each of the eras stand at a monument and talk to the kids about their experiences and things like that,” she said. “The third graders were the first ones to come down to the boulevard for a field trip.”
“Then it used to be the middle school kids that came down here, and then they changed the curriculum. They teach U.S. History in high school now, so it has been the high school kids that come down here for probably the past four or five years,” DeFillippi said. “A thousand students have gone through the program with great success.”
Students from U.S. History classes at both Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central high schools were walking in groups from monument to monument, with the boulevard closed to traffic for the occasion.
Fitz was a gunner’s mate second class in the U.S. Navy, serving on supply ships in the Atlantic. He said for years he used to partner for the boulevard event with his friend John Lasnier – a WWII Army sergeant who fought in France, Belgium, and Germany, and was awarded the Bronze Star. Lasnier died in 2016.
“He would talk Army and I would talk Navy. I miss John,” said Fitz, who noted Lasnier was responsible for getting the small American flags planted in the ground by the monuments inserted in small metal pipes so they wouldn’t tip over.
Fitz talked to the 10th graders from Lisa Rocco’s and Jason Cirillo’s history classes at BEHS about Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. “These dictators were real bad people. They wanted complete control over everybody.”
He referred to Bob Barnett, the Korean War veteran giving his own talk nearby. “Bob says if it hadn’t been for you guys, Dick, we’d all be speaking German, and I’m glad that didn’t happen.”
“But you can see the price they paid,” he continued, indicating names carved on the WWII monument. “All these people that were 18, 19, in their 20s. We’re coming up in a few days on the anniversary of Normandy, when we lost 2,400 men in four hours – 2,400 hot blooded Americans got mowed down just like they were grass. The Germans had those beaches cross fired so no matter how you went ashore you were going to get picked off by a machine gun.”
“It’s sad, I think of it all the time,” he added.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.