NEWINGTON - Itâ€™s been three months since the Newington Memorial Day Parade: The day a bag of cherished flags went missing in action. The Connecticut Chapter of the Korean War Veterans is pleading for the communityâ€™s help in locating the lost or stolen bag.
On Saturday, May 27, the chapter arrived at the starting lineup behind schedule, rushing to assemble their banner and American flag. The bag of remaining flags was placed beside a tree on the Robbins Green, a small patch of land between Main Street and Robbins Avenue, down a capped-off, unnamed stretch of road.
The parade marched off in all its glory. Afterwards, the group returned to pick up the bag. It was gone.
â€śI was crushed,â€ť President James â€śJimâ€ť Shelmerdine said. â€śWhat could have happened to it?â€ť
He checked with Newington police and the Mayorâ€™s office to see if someone had turned it in, but nobody had.
Newington Memorial Day Parade Chairman Francis Evon didnâ€™t receive word of the missing bag until this week.
â€śThis is news to me; Iâ€™m at a loss for words,â€ť said Evon, who is reaching out to other parade officials to find out if anybody saw anything.
Both veterans agree that if the flags are in someoneâ€™s possession they should turn them in.
â€śIt would be the right thing to do, so we can get them to their rightful owners,â€ť Evon pointed out. â€śBeing a non-profit, this organization has limited funds to begin with but theyâ€™re always out there, representing and helping to memorialize all Korean War veterans killed in action.â€ť
The lost flags represent the State of Connecticut, Korea, the United Nations and POW-MIA.
Shelmerdine does not know what it would cost to purchase replacement flags, but said their value is priceless. He remains disheartened by the whole situation.
â€śIâ€™m devastated - these flags mean everything. I just canâ€™t imagine what value these would have to someone who picked them up. If we donâ€™t get them back we probably wonâ€™t be in another parade again.â€ť
Shelmerdine joined the Connecticut Army National Guard in 1952 and five months later was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as combat rifleman in the First Battalion 224th Infantry, 40th Infantry Division in North Korea. He remained on active duty until 1992, when he joined the Final Honors Firing Squad, of which he now serves as Commander. He also teaches an adult military history course and has been a charter member of the state Veterans Day Parade Committee for the last 17 years. The November 2017 procession was canceled due to rising costs.
The position that usually keeps Shelmerdine the busiest is on an Honor Guard, which performs a three-volley salute and Taps at veteransâ€™ funeral services throughout the state. That has fallen by the wayside since June 30, when Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order to continue state operations in lieu of a budget passing. It did not include funding for the Honor Guards, whose members typically receive a $50-a-day stipend for their services. They have not had an assignment since.
â€śThe National Guard usually calls to give us the information about where to go,â€ť Shelmerdine said. â€śWeâ€™d do it for free, but they tell us we canâ€™t until the governor signs the budget, releasing the money. They run the show.â€ť
Heâ€™s performed at over 5,000 funerals, usually more than a dozen each month. Now that the squad has been deferred until further notice, Connecticut veterans who pass away donâ€™t get the traditional â€śfull military honors.â€ť
â€śTo me, veterans are being shortchanged,â€ť said Shelmerdine, for whom it has been a difficult summer.
Anyone with any information about the missing bag of flags is asked to contact Jim Shelmerdine at 860-528-0251 or 860-550-4880.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.