Norwich prepares to mark 100th anniversary of end of World War I
Norwich – Each year, local veterans’ groups host intimate ceremonies for Veterans’ Day, but this year, those same groups will be joined by city officials, the city historian and a former state troubadour to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, the end of World War I.
“It has become Veterans Day to honor all veterans, but we’re going to have a particular emphasis to honor World War I veterans,” said Dale Plummer, city historian and chairman of the committee organizing the city’s Armistice Day 100th anniversary ceremony.
Details of the ceremony are not yet firm, but the committee hopes many veterans’ groups will participate, with possibly a short parade and an enhanced ceremony. The committee is seeking families of World War I veterans and those killed in action to participate. Nov. 11 is a Sunday.
Plummer has been compiling a list of Norwich World War I servicemen, but that has proven difficult. The city’s World War I memorial on Chelsea Parade lists 1,397 names. The Connecticut War Services Department, the Norwich War Department and the American Red Cross lists all have variations. The total seems to range from 1,300 to about 1,800, Plummer said.
And those listed on other towns’ rolls could have been from Norwich, Plummer said. And sometimes, a serviceman’s name varies in different records.
Plummer found records for Pasquale Pappagallo, whose family lived in Norwich. Pappagallo, whose name was listed sometimes as Henry or Harry, worked in Hartford as a young man.
“He was working and lived in Hartford when he enlisted,” Plummer said. “But when he was killed in France, it’s his mother in Norwich who was notified and his family in Norwich who was grieving.”
Plummer also has found two African-American Norwich servicemen, James H.H. Perrin, who died of pneumonia – possibly a victim of the great influenza pandemic, Plummer speculated – and William Perry Johnson, who was killed in action. The U.S. Army was segregated during the war.
The granite memorial on the Chelsea Parade green names 44 men who died in service. The 1919 list by the Norwich branch of the American Red Cross identified 57 local men who died in service.
“We would like families to be present on Nov. 11,” Plummer said. “We would like to honor their service and their families.”
Anyone who had a relative who served in World War I is asked to contact Plummer by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at Norwich City Hall, 100 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360.
One well known Norwich World War I casualty was Robert O. Fletcher, a Norwich Free Academy graduate killed by an exploding artillery shell. The American Legion on Laurel Hill Avenue is named the Robert O. Fletcher Post #4. The post was established in 1919.
Those affiliations gave rise to the second big effort underway in Norwich associated with the end of World War I.
After the war, Norwich joined many American cities petitioning the U.S. War Department to obtain war spoils to display. In 1926, the American Legion secured a captured German howitzer and Norwich placed it on Chelsea Parade.
There it remained for decades, until the wooden spokes on the wheels rotted. The cannon was moved to Mohegan Park and stashed away behind the zoo, before it was placed in a city Public Works garage awaiting restoration.
A second World War I committee is at work raising money to have the howitzer restored so it can be placed again on public display – perhaps back on Chelsea Parade, Alderman William Nash, a member of the committee, said.
“Norwich once had a howitzer right on Chelsea Parade,” the lyrics begin to a song written by committee member, Norwich resident and former state Troubadour Tom Callinan and sung at an April 16 City Council meeting. “Displayed as a trophy of the Great War, where her sons’ sacrifices were made. It came to the city in ’26, as a post-war request by the Legion, where Post Number 4 had been named for a well-loved native son.”
The committee does not expect to raise the estimated $60,000 needed for transportation and restoration by the Nov. 11 Armistice Day centennial. Instead, the group is aiming to complete the project in time for the Robert O. Fletcher American Legion post’s 100th anniversary in fall of 1919.
The howitzer was built in 1904 by the Krupp factory in Essen, Germany. Plummer wrote to the company and learned the weapon, with a serial number of 155, was one of the earliest made of that model.
The artillery piece is more than a prize of war, committee members want to emphasize. About 70 percent of World War I casualties were suffered by artillery fire, including Fletcher’s death.
“It really is an important artifact,” Plummer said. “This represents the experience of a lot of people. That’s where we got the expression ‘shell shocked.’ The task of honoring those who served is important.”
To donate to the restoration effort, send checks made out to City of Norwich with the notation “World War I artillery restoration” to Norwich Finance Department, 100 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360.