Regardless of how busy one’s day gets on Memorial Day this year, Darien teacher Matt Pavia would like everyone to stop what they’re doing and take a moment to remember the significance of the holiday.
“Recognize all of the people who either voluntarily or being called to the draft, put their lives on hold to be a part of something that is larger than them,” he said.
Pavia, who recently co-wrote a book with his father, Tony Pavia, will be speaking on May 27 during Darien’s Memorial Day ceremony at Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery, following the Memorial Day Parade.
The Pavias are co-authors of “An American Town and the Vietnam War: Stories of Service from Stamford, Connecticut,” published in 2018 by McFarland & Co.
The book details the lives of 29 Stamford residents who died as a result of the war and three dozen who returned. It’s available on Amazon, as well as at Barrett Bookstore, and also as an e-book.
Matt Pavia, who lives in Norwalk and grew up in Stamford, has taught American Studies and English at Darien High School since 2003. He’s pursuing his master’s degree in American studies at Fairfield University.
Pavia said his father grew up at a time when veterans were all around him. “In my father’s generation, every family in America had parents or neighbors or uncles who served in World War II or the Korean War,” he said.
As an American history teacher, the elder Pavia would often have veterans come into his classroom to speak.
When Matt Pavia became a teacher, he often assigned his students oral history projects for which they would interview their neighbors or relatives who lived through the 1960s during the war, to share their memories.
“It always ended up being a really meaningful assignment for the kids and they would come in presenting a remarkable story,” Pavia said.
By 2015, he said the time was right to begin research for a book about Stamford residents who were involved in the Vietnam War.
He said that this generation of veterans would come home from the war and had not talked about their experiences too much. He now wanted to preserve these individuals’ stories.
For the book, Pavia and his father interviewed about 40 veterans, as well as at least one family member for almost all 29 people from Stamford who lost their lives in the war.
“We talked to people as far away as New Mexico, Seattle, and Alabama,” Pavia said.
Pavia said that in general, Americans are less civically engaged than they once were.
The culture of the United States “has changed so much” in the last 50 years, “that I don’t think most people can remember a time when a major part of being an American was some sense of civic duty to serve, to be a part of something greater than yourself,” he said.
“Remember that there are people who were asked to do something that ended up costing them their lives, and they deserve to be remembered and their stories deserve to be known,” he said.
He said he strongly supports voluntering and said there are many ways to do so in Darien. “There is an all-volunteer fire department, and we have an EMS service, Post 53, that is staffed by volunteers,” he said.
He also encourages involvement in local government.
He said that the Darien VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) on Noroton Avenue has become “a hub” for Vietnam vets from Darien and Stamford.
“A lot of them have found their home away from home,” he added.
There are six Vietnam casualties from Darien, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. For more information, visit vvmf.org.
Holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day, said Pavia, “are a time to stop and be reminded that the benefits of living in America come with an obligation to serve in some way.”