Don Lockery will serve at the helm of the Memorial Day parade as grand marshal when it steps off at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 28.
Lockery, 76, will lead the 58-unit procession of veterans, dignitaries and bands along the milelong parade course, which begins at Captain Thomas Boulevard and flows up Campbell Avenue to Center Street.
A Navy veteran of the Korean War era, he embraced the honor with typical humility.
“I want to thank the parade committee for selecting me as grand marshal of the 2012 Memorial Day parade,” said Lockery, commander of AMVETS Post 1. “I am very honored.”
Lockery was chosen by the Veterans Council, which helps the city organize the annual parade, for his years of service to the Navy and his fellow vets.
“Today, all who wear the uniform of the United States carry with them the proud legacies of those who have made our nation great,” Mayor John M. Picard said. “Ordinary men and women of extraordinary courage have, since our earliest days, answered the call of duty with valor and unwavering devotion. Bold patriots like Don Lockery have served America with honor and distinction — noble qualities that are the epitome of the grand marshal.”
This year’s edition of southern Connecticut’s oldest and largest parade of its kind will include three marching divisions and a military division, including special accommodations for disabled veterans.
The procession will include an eight-seat golf cart carrying former grand marshals that is bedecked with a star gracing the names of those deceased. Other veterans will ride on a float.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean Peninsula erupted in conflict, becoming the front line of an intensifying Cold War. For three years, U.S. armed forces fought to help keep Korea free, suffering bitter reversals and winning stunning victories before the Military Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom secured the border near the 38th parallel.
Together, American troops and allied forces were part of a generation that, in the words inscribed at their memorial in Washington, D.C., defended “a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
More than 1.7 million U.S. service members faced forbidding terrain and harsh combat in such battles as Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, the Pusan Perimeter and the Chosin Reservoir. And more than 34,000 gave their last full measure of devotion to protect the people of the Republic of Korea.
Lockery, who was born in New Haven but has lived in West Haven for the past half-century, joined the Navy in June 1953 at age 17.
He completed basic training in February 1954 at the Naval Training Center Bainbridge in Port Deposit, Md., just before the agreement at Panmunjom.
After serving as a boatswain’s mate aboard the warship USS Goldcrest, a minesweeper attached to the Fleet Sonar School in Key West, Fla., he was stationed at a cargo handling base in Williamsburg, Va.
In June 1955, the seaman first class was dispatched to a cargo ship out of Norfolk, Va., one of an armada of vessels charged with replenishing the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.
Like many sailors abroad, it was the yearning of their sweethearts back home, and not the seasickness, that affected them the most. However, it was the daily bout of lovesickness that plucked Lockery’s heartstrings and drew his thoughts to his native New Haven and his longtime girlfriend, Patti Salvo.
The couple twice set a wedding date in 1956, only to find it interrupted by his active-duty service.
A third date was planned for Aug. 11, 1956, to coincide with his post-deployment leave, but Lockery soon learned that he was returning to sea three days before the couple’s nuptials, an unforeseen misfortune, he said.
Fortunately for Lockery, he had a sympathetic division commander who agreed to take him off the billet if Lockery found someone to swap duties with.
“There was a billet going to Quonset Point (R.I.) to train for Operation Deep Freeze II, a trip to the South Pole,” Lockery explained. “This was the one and only time I volunteered while in the service, and it was the best thing I ever did. I married Patti, a beautiful, loving girl, and we were married for 54 years.”
Lockery’s wife died last year of pancreatic cancer. She was 73.
In October 1956, Lockery arrived in Antarctica, where he faced the challenge of adjusting to 24 hours of daylight and enduring subzero temperatures.
His crew’s mission included unloading materials for Seabees, a construction battalion of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, to build a permanent base there.
The impetus behind Operation Deep Freeze was the International Geophysical Year, an international scientific project that ran from July 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1958. IGY was a collaborative effort between 40 nations to carry out earth science studies from the North to South poles and at points in between.
The U.S., Great Britain, France, Japan, Norway, Chile, Argentina and the USSR reached an accord to go to the South Pole — the least explored area on Earth. Their goal was to advance the world’s knowledge of Antarctic hydrography, weather systems, glacial movements and marine life.
Lockery finished his Navy career at the base in Williamsburg. He was released in November 1957 and was officially discharged Nov. 4, 1961.
After military service, he worked as a cutter at the New Haven Board & Carton Co. on East Street. He later moved on to a job soldering record dies at the Hamilton Manufacturing Co. on First Avenue in West Haven.
While at Hamilton, which shuttered four years after he started, Lockery attended night school at Hillhouse High School and received his diploma in 1968.
For the next three decades, he was employed by Eder Bros. Inc. off Frontage Road. He retired in 1998 from the liquor distributor, where he was shop steward of the local Teamsters union for 28 years.
Lockery is well-known for his contributions to area charitable organizations. He is a member of the West Haven Emergency Assistance Task Force and a parishioner of St. Louis Church, serving as a liaison between WHEAT and the church.
He is in his 30th year as a member of the West Haven Elks Lodge 1537 and is a former exalted ruler of the service club.
Lockery has a daughter, Donna Macomber, of Meriden, and a son, Donnie Lockery, who resides in West Haven.
The 90-minute parade will commence with a flyover by a fixed-wing aircraft. Lockery will guide the procession from a convertible flanked by the West Haven Police Color Guard.
The event, in memory of the deceased members of the U.S. armed forces of all wars, will include a legion of veterans groups, including AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America. It also will include the American Legion and the West Haven Coast Guard Auxiliary.
If it rains, the parade will take place at the same time Saturday, June 2.
The procession will consist of four marching bands: West Haven High School, Bailey Middle School, the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society and the Washington Park Junior Drum Corps.
It also will include the traditional contingent of youth organizations and sports leagues, dance and Scout troupes, fraternal organizations and service clubs, local and state leaders, and police officers and firefighters.
-- MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Information Officer