War monuments are such mute and familiar inhabitants of the Connecticut landscape - on town greens, in cemeteries, outside government offices - that nobody knows exactly how many there are. The best estimate is upward of 250, easily making them the most common form of outdoor sculpture in the state.
No matter which war or what scale of sacrifice the monuments memorialize, they fall into two general categories. "The first kind is to individuals who served and the second kind is to those who perished. Sometimes there's both," Mary Donohue, the architecture historian who keeps tabs on the monuments for the state, said one day earlier this month as the drumbeats sounded for yet another war.
The Civil War bled Connecticut, but another reason so many Civil War monuments got built here is that James G. Batterson, usually remembered as the founder of the Travelers Insurance company, was a 19th century monument magnate."We say, `If you could make it out of metal or stone, and make a buck, we made it in Connecticut.' We took orders from all over the nation," Donohue said. One Batterson employee, the architect George Keller, designed memorials for Gettysburg as well as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park. Another, a German immigrant, designed the archetypal figure of the soldier resting on his rifle who stands atop many Civil War monuments.
Donohue's formal job title is survey and grants director for the Connecticut Historical Commission. She said a statewide outdoor sculpture inventory was done about a decade ago after the Smithsonian Institution became concerned that monuments nationally were falling apart. Since then, the commission has begun a program to encourage their preservation. It also has tried to keep its monument inventory up to date.
"We discovered 20 or 25 we missed the first time," and she said, "We add about three to 10 pieces a year." Some are new war monuments. "It's become kind of pro forma; you have one for every war," she said. "You didn't see anything going up [after the Vietnam War]. It started to happen in the last 10 years, and even more recently."
So many towns are restoring monuments or building new ones, it's hard to keep track. Donohue believed that Brookfield was one of the first towns anywhere to put up a monument to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and that West Hartford was in the early stages of building a major new monument to veterans of all wars.
Brookfield doesn't have a Sept. 11 monument - yet. But money is being raised for one, reports Marty Foncello, the first selectman, who just recently retired from the Army Reserve with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was still in the Reserve when, soon after his election to a second term as first selectman in November 2001, he was called to active duty in Washington, D.C.
"I had to go away for five or six months. I thought it would be a few weeks," Foncello said. "A lot has happened since I've been back," he said, referring to the government's shift in the war on terrorism from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Iraq hadn't changed the town's thinking about its Sept. 11 monument.
"This has been going on for a while. Everybody hopes somebody will blink and back off," Foncello said. "I tend to think there'll be some kind of concentration again on bin Laden."
The first selectman said the military intelligence work he did "for a couple of different agencies" in Washington was classified. He did disclose he took photographs with him of two people killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. One was of a town woman who worked in one of the twin towers and the other was of the fireman son of a reservist he knows.
"I had them stuck up on the wall while we were doing our thing down in Washington to remind me of why we were there," Foncello said.
He pointed out that the state already has erected a Sept. 11 memorial at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport and that the town with a monument already in the ground is Brookfield's neighbor, New Milford.
Joe Hine is the man who told New Milford it needed a Sept. 11 monument. On and around its long, segmented green, the town already has monuments to the Civil War, World War I and one that covers conflict generally. Guarded by a tank and topped by an eagle, its inscription reads: "In recognition of services rendered to our country by men and women of New Milford during national crisis." World War II is not forgotten. A roster inside the town hall bears the names of the approximately 400 townspeople who served in that war.
Hine, who spent 33 years on the town police force before being elected to the town council, said he began thinking about a Sept. 11 memorial the day the terrorists struck. Like a lot of people, Hine got a phone call from someone, in his case his wife, who was at a beach cottage in Rhode Island, who told him to turn on the television.
"I could see right away what was happening and right away I started thinking we were going to have to put up some kind of monument in town. I thought of all the terrible things that happened in that time period - the twin towers, the Pentagon - I was all choked up," he said.
"I knew we were being attacked and I kind of felt uneasy. I was kind of waiting for something else to happen that day. I hated to think of it, but I keep thinking a lot about a nuclear war, if we started shooting nuclear weapons. I thought, `We're not safe anymore,' " Hine said. "It's frightening to think ... we've got these savage countries, they're in poverty, life means nothing to them ... the powers that be are eating the food and the people are starving."
Hine might have dwelled on nuclear war and apocalypse because he is an Air Force veteran (he was stationed state-side during the Vietnam War) and a churchgoer (Episcopalian). He sees the despair in the Mideast as similar to the despair in Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "People were in such bad shape, they didn't want to live," he said.
Soon after the Sept. 11 attack, Hine organized a committee to plan and raise money for New Milford's newest war monument. It was dedicated last Sept. 11, at the edge of a parking lot behind the train depot overlooking ball fields and the Housatonic River. In keeping with minimalist fashion, the monument is deceptively simple: a pole flying the American flag embedded in a block of granite inscribed only with the phrase "In memory of Sept. 11, 2001." But as with most monuments, it does not reveal its meaning in a glance. The base, for instance, is pentagonal, and a garden will be planted to represent the Pennsylvania field where one of the hijacked jetliners crashed.
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