NEW BRITAIN - Local residents are complaining that the Iwo Jima Memorial off Route 9 has been dark for the last six weeks and the foundation that maintains the park appears to have no answers for them.
It’s a matter of respect, honor and dignity for World War II and Iwo Jima Battle survivor Vincent “Vinnie” Thomas, who built the monument alongside fellow Iwo Jima survivors in 1995, as a tribute to the 7,000 U.S. Marines who fought and died securing the island from the Japanese in 1945.
“That park is not being taken care of the way the survivors wanted it to be when we left that legacy there,” Thomas said over the phone Tuesday. “I’m one of the few remaining survivors left in Connecticut and I’m 95 years old. We can’t do it ourselves. When I asked why the lights aren’t on no one seems to give me an answer. I wish someone would have that park taken care of and show some more respect.”
The Iwo Jima Memorial Historical Foundation is responsible for maintaining the park on the Newington/New Britain line and President Ray Carrier was unaware of the issue when the Herald reached out to him Tuesday.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about; we got power,” Carrier said. “As far as I know the monument lights and parking lot lights are still on....No, I have not been over there recently. I live in Prospect. But our electric bill has been paid up to date so there’s no reason to suspect the lights are off. I will certainly check into it.”
Foundation Board member Mark Adamski contended that he had driven by Monday morning and the light known as “the eternal flame” was burning brightly.
That one runs on natural gas and was recently replaced so that it will re-ignite itself when rain or wind blows it out, according to Adamski.
New Britain resident Robert Gleason Jr. says he’s visited the park almost every night for the last 21 years, to honor his late father, World War II veteran Robert Gleason Sr.
“It’s been over a month-and-a-half - no lights,” Gleason said Monday. “The flame is on but the parking lot and the lights along the sign and walkway are dark. “I brought my own solar lights to put up and someone took them down.”
Daylight Savings Time ended Nov. 7 and the sun set at 4:21 p.m. Monday. The street lights on Ella Grasso Blvd. and on Rt. 9 above the park were shining bright around 5:30 p.m., but none of the bulbs within its perimeters were lit.
“This is a national monument,” Gleason said. “This is disrespecting veterans. It’s defacing the American flag and the veterans of the United States who fought and continue to fight for this country.”
It’s also unsafe for visitors who come at night, which include local veterans, their loved ones, local Scout troops and students of nearby Central Connecticut State University, Gleason said.
Former Foundation President Gary Roy is another frequent park visitor, and he too, is upset seeing the monument in darkness - especially around Veterans Day and the Marine Corps’ birthday.
“It’s a huge responsibility being President of this non-profit, and part of that responsibility is to make sure this park is maintained and in perfect condition all the time, day and night,” Roy pointed out.
“It just strikes me as funny that nobody has driven by to check on the park. If you made a mistake, be man enough to admit it and if you can’t handle the responsibility of taking care of the park maybe you should step down.”
This is not the first time Roy and others have taken conflict with the foundation’s care of the property. In July some of the memorial benches had been moved around. It was one in particular honoring the late Frank Zuraski - a survivor who died cleaning brush there in 1994 - that was particularly disarming to frequent visitors. Zuraski’s nephew and one of his only remaining relatives, Bill Yanchak, told the Herald at the time that his uncle would be “turning over in his grave.”
As a former close friend of Zuraski and one of the few survivors still living, Thomas gets choked up talking about these strange happenings at the memorial they erected together all those years ago.
“The park should be lit up at night because it’s a legacy we left,” Thomas said. “I want the public to know what happened on Iwo Jima, about all these men who fought there and did not come back. It’s a shame the way the park is being handled today.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.