First Connecticut woman to become VFW member is remembered
By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Stafford - posted Thu., Nov. 15, 2012
Stafford VFW Post No. 9990, in conjunction with the West Stafford Fire Department, welcomed veterans, firefighters, local dignitaries and members of the public to a Veterans' Day ceremony held at WSFD on Saturday, Nov. 10. The day was dedicated to all who serve, but the event also marked the first ceremonial flying of an American flag donated by Stafford VFW Post No. 9990 to the WSFD. The 18-foot by 30-foot flag was made by Patriot Supply of Somers, and was donated in memory of life-long Stafford resident and VFW member Catherine Leahy, a World War II nurse.
“She was the first woman in Connecticut ever to be allowed to join the VFW, because she was actually in battle as a nurse,” said VFW Post No. 9990 Commander Michael Richey. Until she died in the spring of 2012, Leahy continued to support the VFW post. Richey said that the VFW was planning a big celebration for Leahy's 100th birthday when she died just a few days shy of reaching that milestone.
At age 99, Leahy had outlived her family, including eight siblings. She was predeceased by her husband in 1970.
“Everyone passed on but her,” said Richey. “We were her family – the VFW. When we buried her, we buried her next to great-grandchildren.”
Stafford VFW Post No. 9990 Adjutant Lew Estabrook provided Leahy's backstory. “She was quite a lady,” he said. “She was dedicated to this country. She volunteered and served in the United States Navy on the island of Guam in the Pacific theater during the war, as a nurse.” Estabrook said that Leahy treated not only injured U.S. servicemen wounded in action, but she also treated prisoners of war. In addition to the medals she earned during WWII, which include the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal, Estabrook said that Leahy was later presented with the Connecticut Veterans War Time Service Medal.
The Veterans' Day observance included the presentation of the new flag by Richey, and its blessing by VFW Post No. 9990 Chaplain John Hinchliffe. The flag was unfurled for flying by members of Post No. 9990 and the WSFD.
Guest speaker and Stafford First Selectman Richard Shuck said, “I'm honored to be here today. This is a very special occasion that means a lot to a lot of people.” He thanked everyone who has served and who is currently serving.
State Sen. Tony Guglielmo (R-35), who recently visited Fox Hill in Vernon, shared some of the stories he heard from veterans residing there. “Today, they're [soldiers] in the field right now, doing the very same thing that their forefathers did...” said Guglielmo.
Probate Judge Tim Keeney, a member of Stafford VFW Post No. 9990, presented West Stafford Fire Department Chief Joseph Lorenzetti with a Navy SEAL coin. “I want to recognize the common traits that both military and the fire departments have,” he said, reading the phrase on the coin which said, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Lorenzetti said the flag will remain in permanent residence at the WSFD and will be flown on ceremonial occasions.