NEWINGTON - Ninety-five degree heat did not keep 95-year-old George Caron and his wife, Lois, from delivering a fresh American flag to the Iwo Jima Memorial Thursday.
It was just after noon with the sun nearing its highest point in the sky and Caron sat in the shade of a maple tree in the park. He graciously greeted a growing line of spectators and television news cameras, anxious for a few words with one of the few remaining survivors of the historic World War II battle.
The 4th Division Marine veteran helped build this park, which sits on the Newington-New Britain town line, just off the Route 9 interchange. Each year the Carons make the trip out to present a brand new 48-star banner to the iconic monument, depicting six American soldiers raising the second flag on the Japanese island in February of 1945.
The Newington Volunteer Fire Department set up its Ladder 2 apparatus just below the grass line Thursday. Above a crowd peering up from the ground, firefighter Alex Sierra climbed the ladder to remove and replace the wind-tattered flag.
The park honors the 100 soldiers from Connecticut who perished in the battle. In his soft spoken way Caron explained why these men are the sole reason he brings a new flag each year.
“They would have done the same thing for us,” he said simply.
He and Lois were escorted to the park by their grandnephew Max Ecklund, 18, who said he was proud to do it.
“My grand uncle is an inspiration for me,” Ecklund explained. “All he’s done for our country and everything he’s been through just inspires me to keeping pushing to be better. He’s a big person in my life.”
They were joined by relatives and friends, along with several patriotic groups like the Connecticut Oath Keepers, a pro-constitutional organization composed of veterans, law enforcement officers and regular citizens who support the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
“We’re here to pay respect to the greatest generation,” Vice President Dana Petkaitis said. “People need to appreciate all the sacrifices made for this country and those who died for our freedom.”
Newington Fire Chief Chris Schroeder stood on guard below the apparatus, making sure the replacement went off without a hitch.
“It’s definitely an honor for us to be here today,” he said. “We got to meet one of the survivors of the battle and support them going forward. It’s important we don’t forget.”
Fire Capt. Jack Nesklada led the undertaking, which is traditionally performed by different firefighters each year.
“We do it out of respect for the veterans,” he said.
The old flag was folded delicately and placed in the arms of Caron, who donated it last year.
It wasn’t an easy trip for the family to make this year. Caron is in a wheelchair and had his oxygen tank by his side in the park.
“I don’t know if George will be here another year,” Lois said. “We’ll continue purchasing the flag but this could be the last year we deliver it to the park.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.