By Mary Reczek, West Rutland, Vt.
Red Sutkoski, a 93-year-old veteran of World War II, said it would never happen. Joe Czachor was also a skeptic: “I’ve heard these ideas before, but it’s never happened." It was October 2013; Joe and Red had just participated in a panel discussion hosted by the West Rutland Historical Society. Along with six of their peers, they had shared their experiences of WW II with a standing room only audience in the West Rutland Town Hall. They spoke quietly, with memories flooding over their faces. Members of the audience were moved by the humbleness of these men who answered the call to defend the free world after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Tears shone in the eyes of the audience as they first listened, and then shared their own memories of fathers, uncles and brothers who had unselfishly left their families, their work and possibly given up their futures to fight in lands they had only read about as students in elementary schools. Some in the audience lost uncles and fathers and recalled how the tragic news was delivered to their families who would never see their sons again, even in death.
At the end of the meeting, audience members, without saying the words, knew that the town of West Rutland had to honor their veterans individually, even though only about a dozen survived.
In November 2013, 16 individuals held a meeting. We had only a vague idea of what we hoped to accomplish. We were teachers, nurses, laborers and lawyers. We owned businesses, were mothers and fathers and town officials. At the time, all we had in common was the fact that a father, uncle or brother had served in the war, and that we all hailed from West Rutland.
Two groups formed during that meeting. One was interested in what the monument should look like and where it would be placed. The other wanted to find the names of all who had served and inscribe them on the monument. We agreed to proceed with four goals to direct our decisions. First, the monument should be configured so as to resemble the earlier wooden wall of honor that was erected on the high school property in 1943. Second, the monument would be located in a place of honor, where everyone passing through town would see it and remember. Third, that the names of any men and women who were born in West Rutland, or who had lived in West Rutland prior to entering military service and who had served during the war years between the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the signing of the peace treaty on Sept. 2, 1945, would be included. Fourth, that all money raised for this monument should come from families of the veterans and businesses with ties to West Rutland or someone who had served in WWII.
After two years of research, planning and many, many meetings, the monument was dedicated on VJ Day, Aug. 15, 2015. It featured three polished black granite stones, with an eagle atop the centerpiece. A mini-park with small evergreens and bushes, and benches for reflection made of native West Rutland marble, surrounded the three stones. A crisp flag, atop a new flag pole, moved slowly in the breeze; it mirrored the deliberate movements of the veterans who attended that day: Red Sutkoski was there, as was Joe Czachor. Charles Kotomski, Leo Digangi, Stanley Wos, Bill Jacobs, whose names were on the wall, also attended, as did several other World War II veterans from the Rutland area. It was a solemn and dignified ceremony, honoring the 611 men and women who served. The very generous contributions of so many families, friends and businesses had made possible the remarkable monument and the memorable dedication.
Joe Czachor passed away two months after the dedication, Red Sutkoski several months later. Within a year after the dedication, another eight veterans whose names were on the wall had also died. There is consolation in knowing that at least some of our heroes knew that the townspeople valued their service and were able to honor their sacrifice in a small way.