“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy

Story By John Murray

On April 6th, 1865, the Union Army crushed Confederate troops at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek capturing seven Confederate generals, thousands of troops, and 14 pieces of artillery. Captain Edwin Neville of Waterbury was at Sayler’s Creek and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for capturing a Confederate flag during battle. Three days later, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox, and Captain Neville was in the detail that accompanied Grant to accept Lee’s surrender.

Captain Edwin Neville

Waterbury has a long and storied history of sending her sons and daughters into war – Neville is one of three city residents to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – but the city hasn’t always done the greatest job maintaining the headstones of the thousands of veterans who answered their country’s call to duty.

Michael Dalton is changing that.

During training runs through New Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterbury, Dalton, who has been the City Clerk in the city for the past 16 years, noticed a neglected WWI tombstone being swallowed by bushes along the far southern edge of the burial ground. Dalton looked closer and found several other tombstones had already vanished into the vegetation.

“These men had been forgotten and that’s not acceptable,” Dalton said, “so I decided to do something about it.”

Vietnam veteran Michael Dalton is spearheading the restoration project.

Dalton launched the Veterans Tombstone Restoration Project and started raising money from friends and family. In 2020 the project cleaned and repaired 19 headstones in the New Pine Grove Cemetery, mostly WWI veterans, but there was also a veteran from the Indian Wars, and from the Spanish American War.

In 2021 Dalton raised the bar higher when he announced he wanted to restore 50 to 60 tombstones this year. One week ago Dalton said the project had restored 90 headstones, and was going to finish 100 this year – one of them is monument for Captain Edwin Neville. Fund raising was helped this year by $5000 secured for the project by the city’s delegation in Hartford.

Some of the restored headstones in Old Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterbury, CT.

Dalton is the contact person for Veteran Affairs for the City of Waterbury and works every week assisting with medical care, food, clothing and connecting veterans to services. “I go out into the woods to help homeless veterans,” Dalton said. “Many of these men have been forgotten.”

Dalton served in the Vietnam War and is a busy and engaged man. He is the chairman of the annual Kidsmarathon program, is on the Board of Directors of the Greater Waterbury YMCA, and on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Waterbury. When asked why he was cleaning tombstones of soldiers who’d fought in every war from the American Revolution to Afghanistan, Dalton took a deep breath and paused for a few seconds before answering.

“Why?” Dalton said. “When I returned home from Vietnam I thought a lot about what other soldiers had gone through in the wars they had served in. The one thing we all had in common is that when our country called, we answered the call. We served. These are men of honor and their tombstones should not be neglected.”

There will be a remembrance ceremony in the Old Pine Grove Cemetery, on Meriden Road in Waterbury, on September 12th. The program is set to begin at 11 am sharp with Lee Ann Lovelace singing “The Green Fields of France”, Waterbury Detective Andrea Saunders singing the National Anthem, and the Waterbury Police and Drums will close out the ceremony with “Amazing Grace”.

Rev. Sullivan blessing the headstones of WWI veterans in 2020.

Reverend Jim Sullivan of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception will say an opening prayer, and remarks will be delivered by Mayor Neil O’Leary, State Representative Geraldo Reyes, Bob Dorr and Jack Shea from the Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee, and U.S. Navy Captain Richard Scappini will offer words of reflection. Dalton will be the Master of Ceremonies.

“I needed to do this,” Dalton said, “and there is a lot more work to do in the years ahead.” Dalton is eyeing the neglected tombstones in Calvary Cemetery, in the East End, for next year’s project, and is hoping to raise money to continue his work.”

“This isn’t about politics,” Dalton said. “This is for the soldiers.” •

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