At the state Veterans’ Stand Down Friday, Vietnam veteran David Morrissette held a totebag filled with free socks, T-shirts and cookies.
The Manchester native and U.S. Army veteran said he attended his first Stand Down mostly to mix with about 1,000 veterans in Rocky Hill. But Morrissette, 73, who is living on Social Security, also said he was grateful for the free stuff and impressed by the wide variety of services available, from haircuts to legal guidance.
“It’s so many things. It’s all in one place. It’s a beautiful thing,” he said.
Veterans from throughout the state gathered at the Veterans Home off West Street, where white tents crowded the grounds. Launched in 1992, the Stand Down at first was focused mostly on homeless veterans, but the scope has widened to serve any veteran seeking information on available services. There were about 100 providers and exhibitors, including colleges, businesses, healthcare organizations, state and federal agencies, government and private legal advisers and of course, an array of veterans organizations.
The event offers veterans one-stop shopping for services and makes a big difference in their lives, American Legion executive Bob Murray said. Many people volunteer to make the Stand Down meaningful, Murray said, including his late wife, who knitted 200 wool hats each year to give away at the annual event.
The Buffalo Soldiers of Hartford, a motorcycle club that promotes and preserves the legacy of African-American service members, piled donated clothing on several tables.The men’s clothing always goes quickly, Army veteran and club member Bob Harris said, pointing to a table that had been replenished three times in the first 1 ½ hours.
To reach even more veterans, state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly said the agency is considering a regional approach to the Stand Down. The idea is to hold events in each of the state’s five Congressional Districts, using community colleges as bases, Connolly said.
Army veteran Tony Williamson of Bridgeport said he came to the Stand Down to check out educational and job opportunities. Williamson, 58, said he is unemployed, but information he received at the event gave him hope.
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, who represents the District of Connecticut, was among state and federal officials at the Stand Down. From a speakers’ platform, Daly told veterans that her office stands ready to protect their employment and voting rights, among other services. She referred veterans to the U.S. Department of Justice website, www.servicemembers.gov.
The Fairfield native said she knows about veterans’ struggles. Daly is the granddaughter, daughter and sister of veterans. Her father, U.S. Army Capt. Michael Daly, won the Medal of Honor in World War II.
“I really understand the sacrifice and the difficulties they faced when they came back,” Daly said.