By August Pelliccio, SCSU Journalism student
August Pelliccio, a journalism student at Southern Connecticut State University, reported this story in 2018 as part of Journalism Capstone coursework on World War I.
A World War I monument once celebrated and beautiful had turned pitiful with neglect, said Ron Fischer, who spearheaded the four-year project to restore the 50-foot flagpole in the horseshoe on the Naugatuck Green.
“It was really pathetic,” he said. “Everybody let it go.”
It was 2008, said Fischer, commander of American Legion Post 17, when he took a stand, himself.
Being a Vietnam veteran, his position as commander, and appreciation for the memorial are close to his heart. He said since World War I, veterans are no longer around to stand up for themselves. Veterans in the American Legion, like himself, were honored to stand up for them.
“It belongs to the town,” said Fischer. “The town never did anything with it.”
It was a joint project, he said, between his American Legion post, and the Beacon Valley Grange. He brought the idea to both organizations, and they decided to begin a large-scale project to fully recondition the monument.
Originally, the monument was a gift to the borough from Harris Whittemore, according to a 1921 Naugatuck Daily News article.
The article stated the monument was dedicated in a May 30, 1921 ceremony.
“Naugatuck people to the number of perhaps 1,000 gathered about the war memorial erected in memory of the men who died in the recent World War,” it stated.
The ceremony, according to the 1921 Naugatuck Daily News article, was “impressive and inspiring,” following Naugatuck’s annual Memorial Day parade.
The annual parade was led toward the monument annually, but Fischer said after over 30 years, a design oversight made for a necessary renovation. The heavy iron flagpole rusted and cracked the limestone.
“The original flagpole was higher than this, and it was iron,” Fischer said, pointing up at the monument.
The rusty, deteriorated flagpole was to be replaced, he said, and “in the process of changing it, [the monument] collapsed.”
The limestone base fell apart, and was put haphazardly back together, Fischer said, and then the floral sculpture beneath the flagpole was painted in a silver color.
The limestone became more stained, and the seams where it was put back together fell further apart, until the 2008 restoration.
The project was jumpstarted by two, $1,000 donations, from the Legion and the Beacon Valley Grange, as stated in a 2012 Citizen’s News article. With some money collected, Fischer sent out for an estimate on the project.
“[The estimate] was just a little upward of $40,000,” Fischer said.
When news broke of the grand scale of the project, donations poured in, as stated in a 2012 Citizen’s News article.
“Donations came in from Tennessee, Rhode Island, Illinois and even Canada,” the article read, “all from individuals who had family listed on that monument.”
The families’ contributions, a $25,000 donation by the borough and donations of under $100 to over $1,000 from local businesses eventually added to the $40,000 total, but Fischer said it did not happen overnight.
“It took me about four years to raise all the money,” said Fischer.
When the monument was first erected, it did not happen quickly, either. According to a 1920 Naugatuck Daily News article, the monument was not deemed complete and dedicated until almost a year after the base was delivered in July 1920.
The monument stands today, accurate to how it was originally designed for the 1921 installation.
The 50-foot flagpole, garnished with a freshly sandblasted, copper floral piece, sits atop the roughly 8-foot by 10-foot limestone base, decorated by classical figures, and words carved in relief in the limestone.
The west face of the monument lists 30 names, stating: “In honor of the men of Naugatuck who gave their lives in the Great War for the chaining of savagery and the liberation of a menaced world.”
Though Fischer was not born and raised in Naugatuck, he said the project was important to him, as a way to speak to the respect he has for veterans like himself, who were killed in World War I. He said he wishes people respected the monument even more, pointing out some chips and stains on the limestone. However, the borough celebrates veterans every Memorial Day.
Fischer said, “The town is very supportive of veterans, and vice versa.”