Statue of adopted war hero to keep its home

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media

(As Published in the Stamford Advocate, Jan. 1, 2016)
by Angela Carella


Among the many hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fought in the nation’s wars, only 3,513 have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration.

Congress gives it to members of the armed forces for gallantry and bravery in combat, at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.

Cities typically recognize their native Medal of Honor winners with monuments, and name important structures for them. Chicago, for example, named its busy airport after Butch O’Hare, the Navy’s first World War II flying ace.
Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media

Stamford's record of honoring its war heroes is spotty. A small downtown park is named for John Latham, awarded the Medal of Honor in 1918 for bravery during World War I.

For Homer Lee Wise, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Stamford dedicated a patch of grass behind the Ridgeway Shopping Center. You’d be hard-pressed to call it a park. Motorists speeding along the multilane thoroughfare that is Bedford Street likely never see it, and it’s not a spot where pedestrians linger.

Wise’s deeds during World War II are the stuff of movies. In June 1944 in Italy, his 142nd Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, was getting pummeled by highly trained German troops during the Battle of Magliano. It would end with Americans and the Allies driving the Germans from Italy.

The fighting was vicious. Wise, squad leader of Company L, was under cover when he spotted a wounded man in the line of fire. He ran out and carried the man to safety. When German gunners advanced on his men, Wise singlehandedly held them off with a grenade launcher. The Germans retreated, and Wise followed, firing at them with a submachine gun.

Fire then came from German soldiers a distance away. Wise, a good shot, walked through flying bullets and picked them off with an automatic rifle. An American tank emerged from the trees to help, but the fire was so heavy that the tank had to button up. The machine gun mounted on the tank was damaged, but Wise jumped on the turret, unjammed it and fired 750 rounds, clearing the way for his regiment to take Hill 163, their objective.

For bravery in other battles, Wise also was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters and 10 additional medals.

But, in Stamford, most people never heard of him.

Jason Rearick / Hearst Connecticut Media
In 2008, a man who knew Wise set out to raise $95,000 to create a statue for him. Most of the money came from outside of Stamford. When it was time to install the statue in Veterans Memorial Park on Atlantic Street, some in the downtown opposed it.

Three years ago, a life-size bronze statue of Wise was installed in Veterans Park. It’s near St. John’s Church, where Wise married Madolyn DiSesa, and across from Old Town Hall, where he worked as an Army recruiter after the war.

However, Veterans Memorial Park is set for a renovation, and a line in the master plan for a new park is causing consternation about the future of the statue.

On pages 23 and 29, the master plan states, “Remove and stockpile HW statue.” Cost: $5,000.

“After everything it took to get the statue installed in Veterans Park, I am not sure what to make of ‘remove and stockpile,’ ” said James Vlasto, who organized the fundraising effort. “I have tried to educate people in Stamford about the Medal of Honor, but it’s been very difficult. The recipients are extraordinary human beings. When I talk to kids, I tell them how President Harry Truman, who was a captain in World War I, said he’d rather have a Medal of Honor than be president of the United States.”

But Rick Redniss, a member of the Veterans Memorial Park Ad Hoc Committee, a group of volunteers working on the redesign, said Wise’s statue will be included. It will not be “removed and stockpiled,” Redniss said.

“That is an unfortunate choice of words that appeared in the report,” said Redniss, a land-use consultant. It happened when Beta Group, the engineering firm hired to design the $8 million renovation, was asked to itemize costs, Redniss said.

“One item was to remove and stockpile the Wise statue, but that has to do with storing it during construction, not moth-balling it,” Redniss said. “I have never heard
— and I have chaired this committee for years — that the statue will not be in Veterans Park.”

Chris Munger, a member of the Stamford Veterans Council who also sits on the park committee, said the Wise statue will stay.

“Homer Wise, having the highest decoration, represents all medal winners from Stamford,” Munger said. “The mayor has said that what’s in the park now stays in the park. That includes the ‘doughboy’ statue representing World War I veterans, and the Lincoln statue. Lincoln was a veteran of the Indian wars and, as leader during the Civil War, is the epitome of a wartime president. When he was assassinated, he became a victim of that war.”

Two city employees on the park committee, Associate Planner Erin McKenna of the Land Use Bureau, and Parks and Facilities Manager Kevin Murray, also said the Wise statue will stay.

Redniss, who was part of the group that worked to create the Wise statue, acknowledged the effort has been challenged.

“I became concerned with how that process played out. There seemed to be not-universal positive feelings about that endeavor,” Redniss said.

When he was asked to help with the park renovation committee, he said, “I said I would be glad to, but it will have to be a broad-based group of people, so we don’t have a situation where people are at odds with each other. We have spent years building a coalition with many veterans represented.”

Vlasto said one reason for the opposition to honoring Wise was that he was not a Stamford native. Wise grew up in Louisiana, left home at 14 during the Great Depression to look for work, joined the Army and met a Stamford girl while at boot camp. Wise spent the rest of his days living with DiSesa and their son in Spring-dale. He died in 1974 of a complication from an old war wound. He was 57.

“He was not born a Stamford guy, but he certainly became one,” Vlasto said. “He returned to Louisiana only twice — once for a big parade they threw for him after he got the Medal of Honor.”

Stamford did not laud Wise, but “he loved Stamford,” Vlasto said. “He always said it was home.”; 203-964-2296; stamford

“He was not born a Stamford guy, but he certainly became one.”
James Vlasto

Editor's Note

The Homer L Wise Memorial Committee is waiting for the sponsors to include in the revised Master Plan language affirming that the Statue of Medal of Honor recipient Homer L. Wise will be in the renovated Veterans Park in Stamford CT where it now stands tall.

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