A legacy of service, an expression of thanks
By Olivia Just
The Stamford Advocate
Plaque to veteran unveiled as city honors fallen troops
STAMFORD -- The story of Staff Sgt. Homer Lee Wise is the tale of so many of America's veterans, men and women who fought on foreign soil and returned home to start a family and a new life in the suburbs.
Along the way, these veterans rarely, if ever, spoke a word of what they saw or did in action.
But Wise's story has a further coda, one that began with his designation as a World War II Medal of Honor recipient by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and ended Sunday following the city's annual Memorial Day parade.
The parade, which wound down Summer and Main streets, ended its run at Veterans Park in Stamford, where a ceremony was held to unveil a plaque at the base of a 6 ½-foot statue of Wise that has stood in the park since December.
The unveiling marked the culmination of a five-year fundraising effort led by Wise's old friend and veteran, James Vlasto.
Vlasto was joined in speaking at the event by Rabbi Phillip Schechter, Mayor Michael Pavia, Morton Dean, the former CBS and ABC news anchor, and Paul Bucha, a recipient of the Medal of Honor in 1968 for his actions in the Vietnam War.
Vlasto, Bucha and Jean Rinaldi, Wise's niece, lifted the cloth from the plaque bearing Wise's accomplishments as they were serenaded by the Stamford High School Madrigal Singers.
"This is a very historic day for Stamford," Vlasto said. "They've never honored a Medal of Honor recipient. He's Stamford's only Medal of Honor recipient. When he came back a hero, he came back to Stamford."
The fact that Wise survived the war was no small accomplishment, Vlasto said, noting that the lifespan for an American soldier in combat during World War II was 14 days.
On a hot day in June 1944 in Magliano, Italy, Wise ran through German gunfire to pull a wounded soldier to safety.
Then he single-handedly held off enemy gunners with a grenade launcher, along with peppering the retreating Germans with fire from a submachine gun and firing 750 rounds from an American tank in order to allow his men to advance.
Roosevelt's citation called Wise's actions "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity." Wise was also awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
After the war, Wise, a handsome, blue-eyed man from Louisiana, came to Stamford to marry Madolyn DiSesa, whom he had met at Cape Cod during the war.
The couple had one son, Jeff, who died in 1990, and only learned about his father's medals at the age of 12 through a friend at school.
Wise was by most accounts a quiet, unassuming man, who returned to the army as a recruiter and then worked in a civilian capacity as a mail supervisor in a bank. He also waited tables for extra money. Wise died in 1974 of congestive heart failure at the age of 57.
Joe Rumore, Wise's nephew, speculated that Wise might have been a little lost for words had he been able to see the statue's dedication or the large crowd that attended the event.
"I think it's beautiful, it's a fantastic commemoration," Rumore said. "I got all choked up. He'd be very proud of the presentation, but I'm sure he wouldn't have much to say about it because he was a very private man. He didn't talk at all about his heroics."
Bucha, who spoke eloquently and emotionally, noted that the Medal of Honor is given to an individual, but it also represents the unsung actions of others, and the collective experience of the recipient's comrades.
"Homer Wise would say the same thing: I earned this medal for those who did not receive it, but earned it," Bucha said. "People come to me and say, `What can I do (for veterans)?' and I say, please don't say, `Thank you for your service.'
"Don't take pride in writing a check or the fact that you gave them some of your stuff. There's only one thing we possess that is truly precious and finite and that is our time. Today, you have given of your time. And those who have served, and their families, know you are grateful."
After the ceremony ended and the crowd dispersed, Stamford resident Betty Hardiman was one of those who lingered for a moment.
She said the ceremony brought back memories of her grandson, U.S. Navy SEAL Brian Bill, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
"Everything was just terrific," Hardiman said of Wise's commemoration. "What a moving speech."