Armed Forces Mural Unveiled; VFW Seeking Additions, Corrections

About 60 people, many current or former armed service members, turned out Saturday morning for a brief unveiling ceremony of a memorial mural created for the Newtown Municipal Center by local artist David Merrill honoring all residents who have served since 1971.

The new work, which has been in process since April 2012, is a companion piece to a mural Mr Merrill created at Edmond Town Hall honoring all Newtown’s vets who served prior to 1971. The artist was feted by a number of guests at the November 9 event, including Southbury clergyman Reverend Walter “Scooter” Pittman.

Looking up toward the hundreds of names on the colorful mural, Rev Pittman talked about riding the school bus with a childhood friend named Eric who headed off to serve in Vietnam after high school, making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

“When Eric died, he made the war real for those he left behind,” Rev Pittman recalled.

First Selectman Pat Llodra said she and those gathered for the ceremony were all “amazed, impressed, honored and humbled” by the towering artwork featuring representative emblems of all American branches of armed service, along with images portraying early 1970s and post-Vietnam era military activities.

“This mural is the beauty of David’s heart,” Mrs Llodra remarked, referring to the artist. “The wonderfulness that is David.”

Newtown VFW Post 308 Commander James “Jamie” Rebman introduced resident Laurie McCollum, who was originally inspired to commission the community’s second commemorative mural project. Ms McCollum said as the unveiling date grew closer, she became much more anxious to see the work completed.

“I wanted it done yesterday,” she told the assembled crowd.

Mr Merrill himself talked about his attachment to Newtown, meeting his future wife while painting the original Edmond Town Hall mural, the emotional experience of creating an American flag on a set of trees at resident Howard Lasher’s Dodgingtown home following the 9/11 tragedy, and the novelty of creating a cover for the Newtownopoly board game.

The artist raised his voice to punctuate his appreciation for the leadership he saw in Mrs Llodra during her tenure as first selectman, particularly in recent months. He then introduced his brother Jim, who traveled to the event from Auburn, Maine, to perform an original song he wrote following his own Vietnam service called “Peace.”

Near the end of the ceremony, local VFW Senior Vice Commander Brendan Dlouhy talked about and presented a commemorative Newtown VFW coin to Mr Merrill as a small token of thanks for his service to veterans and the community.

Following the ceremony, the local VFW post issued a notice on its website asking residents to visit the mural to ensure its inscriptions are as accurate and complete as possible. Post 308 Adjutant Walt Dolan noted that he wants to see incorrect spellings of names and incorrect branches of service corrected, as well as the inclusion of the names of any veterans that may have been omitted.

He is encouraging as many veterans or their survivors as possible to review the mural.

“At this point the mural has not been sealed,” Mr Dolan wrote, asking any corrections or additions be e-mailed to: vfwpost308newtown@gmail.com, with as much specific detail as possible about the subject.

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