SOUTHINGTON - The Southington High School Wall of Honor inducted its largest class yet last week, recognizing graduates for outstanding achievements.
The ceremony was attended by friends and family members of four of the living honorees as well as relatives of two who were killed in action in Vietnam. Town leaders, candidates up for election, American Legion members and local legislators were in attendance.
The ceremony was presided over by Board of Education member Bob Brown, who started the Wall of Honor 11 years ago. Democratic Town Council Candidate Chris Poulos, who was previously inducted, said Brown was inspired by a similar wall in Norwalk while on an accreditation trip.
To be inducted into the Wall of Honor, nominees, who are selected by the Wall of Honor Committee must have graduated from Southington schools (waived for drafted soldiers killed in action), have made significant lifetime achievements, received significant awards, done significant humanitarian work or done significant community service.
First recognized were Lance Cpl. Raymond Burgess and Pfc. Charles Remer, both of whom killed in action in Vietnam.
Burgess left Southington High School in 1963 and was killed in February 1968 when he was 20 years old. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“There is no greater sacrifice a man can give than to give his life for his country,” said Brown.
Remer left Southington High School in 1966 and joined the Marine Corps, where he served as a machine gunner in Vietnam. He was killed in May 1969.
“He and his company were pinned down by a .50-caliber machine gun,” said Brown. “He waited until the enemy went to reload and turned to his unit, waved and then charged in. The gun went silent and those men are alive because of him.”
Next to be honored was Bob Calandra, whom Rep. John Fusco noted was a classmate of his as he presented him with his citation. Calandra is a 1981 Southington High graduate who served in counter-terrorism operations with the FBI and CIA among other accomplishments.
Brown said he once taught Calandra.
“There is no greater reward as a teacher than to see someone you taught go out and do something significant with their lives,” said Brown.
Brown also honored Stephen Gasecki, son of former Southington High School Principal John Gasecki. Gasecki graduated in 1977 and was discharged honorably from the U.S. Navy in 1989. He then supplied the Navy during Operation Desert Storm. He went on to become a harbor pilot and dedicate himself to protecting endangered species.
“Through the good times and the bad this is still the best country in the world, no doubt about it,” said Gasecki. “I have traveled the world and seen a lot of things you wouldn’t want to see but if not for Southington High School I wouldn’t have anything.”
Mark Boxer, a 1978 graduate of Southington High School, was then honored for his achievements working in high-ranking positions for Fortune 100 and Fortune 50 companies in the computer industry. Brown said Boxer also dedicated himself to helping out the disabled and had hired a handicapped student of his.
“I am humbled to be honored tonight,” he said. “But my achievements pale compared to those who gave their lives to serve this country.”
Last but not least, Walter Hushak, whom Brown described as “an icon in Southington,” was honored. A graduate of the previous high school, Lewis High School, in 1941, Hushak is a World War II veteran who flew a bomber in Iwo Jima and later returned to dedicate 70 years of service to the community. He has served on the Town Council and the Board of Ethics and regularly volunteers his time to visit local schools to teach them about WWII history. Additionally, he coordinates “Wings of Freedom” which brings WWII era aircraft to area air shows. He is also a Rotarian who was chosen as an ambassador to Ghana in 1971.
“After seeing the people who received awards tonight I wonder what I’m doing up here,” said Hushak.
Brown later said that Hushak should have been among the first inducted.
Following the ceremony, Brown announced that he had created a non-profit organization and intended to raise funds for a larger Wall of Honor with expanded plaques as well as a portable Wall to bring around to visit local businesses.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.