For what it’s worth New book salutes locals who went to war in Vietnam

November 9, 2018

Tony Pavia is at it again. No, he’s not returning from retirement once more to fill in as a principal at Stamford High School or Trinity Catholic, as he has in the past. He will again conduct a program involving Stamford veterans Friday at Trinity Catholic.

He and his son, Matt, also will conduct a Veterans Day program at Darien High School Monday and then launch their mini book tour by speaking and signing books at the Harry Bennett branch of Ferguson Library on Vine Road at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. They will make an appearance at Darien Library on Dec. 5.

About 20 Stamford veterans of the Vietnam War are expected to attend the Bennett event, including two who now reside in New Mexico and Alabama.

Tony Pavia, who also served as principal at New Canaan High School, is believed to have been the only educator to have been principal at all three schools.

Pavia’s latest return is as the co-author with Matt, also an educator (his other two sons are also teachers), of his second book about Stamfordites who went off to war — in this instance the Vietnam conflict in which 29 Stamford men were killed.

“An American Town and the Vietnam War,” follows the pattern of Pavia’s gripping “An American Town Goes to War,” with Stamford GIs reciting their experiences, often life-threatening and heroic, and how in many instances they were treated as pariahs when they returned home and often endured years of nightmares and post-traumatic stress.

Though he never served in the military, much of Tony Pavia’s adult life has been spent honoring veterans, in large measure because as a young man he would hear his father, a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, talking to friends about their war experiences.

For years he has held tributes to veterans at schools around Memorial Day, starting off by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 at Stamford High when he was chairman of the history department. Matt, who teaches English and American Studies at Darien High, shares his father’s passion for veterans, especially ones from Vietnam.

“I became fascinated about the Vietnam era and the war after seeing movies about it,” Matt Pavia said.

Interviewing the 38 veterans featured in the in the book — there are also individual segments about GIs who were killed — was not easy since many were conflicted about their service, although none expressed regrets about having served, Tony Pavia said.

The youngest Stamford GIs to die in Vietnam were Norman Spenard and Richard Broadhust, both 19, who were born on the same New Year’s Eve in 1945 at Stamford Hospital. The oldest was 41-year-old Richard Rich, a U.S. Navy fighter pilot who was married with a wife and four children. Rich also served in World War II and the Korean War. Two others who were killed, Alfred Bankowski and Stuart, both members of the U.S. Air Force, also served in Korea.

“Most of those from Stamford enlisted, whereas during World War II most were drafted,” Tony Pavia pointed out.

In a book filled with stirring stories about young men who represented a variable cross-section of Stamford, Richard Flaherty’s bittersweet story stands out. Though only 4-feet, 6-inches tall, four inches below the required minimum height, and weighing less than 100 pounds, Flaherty, with the aid of U.S. Thomas Dodd, was able to enlist in the army. Flaherty, with only a high school education from Stamford Catholic High School (now Trinity Catholic) attained the rank of lieutenant with the famed 101st Airborne where he led his paratroopers in jumps into enemy territory and earned the Silver Star for carrying wounded comrades during battle.

Later, he fulfilled a dream by serving in the elite Green Berets where he was decorated with a Bronze Star, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross and several Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in battle. During a star-crossed post Vietnam life, matters worsened dramatically and ended tragically when a homeless 69-year-old Flaherty was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Florida.

Familiar Stamford names abound in the book such as Rich, Romaniello, Sparrow, DeLeo, Melzer, Burke, Weisel, Passero, Munger, Connors, Romano and Davis.

“We talked about writing a follow-up to my dad’s World War II book for years, this time on the Vietnam War,” Matt Pavia said recently. “We finally decided to commit to it when my dad retired and I realized that we had just passed the 50th anniversary of the start of combat operations in Vietnam. The time seemed right.”

Their effort produced a mesmerizing number of tales involving young men from Stamford who mainly believed the government’s claim that U.S. forces were fighting for a just cause, which soon became questionable and problematic and in the eyes of many Americans a tragically wasteful loss of lives in what, like the Iraqi War, became unwinnable.

Jack Cavanaugh, a Stamford native and resident, is a Stamford Advocate columnist. He’s a veteran print and network reporter, college professor, sportswriter and the author of six books

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