By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Grand Marshal William “Bill” Benson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War in 1967-68, steered the Memorial Day parade Monday morning from a golf cart driven by off-duty Trooper 1st Class Alison Peters of the Connecticut State Police.
Benson, 71, led the 55-unit procession of veterans, bands and dignitaries, including Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and other city officials, along Campbell Avenue.
The parade stepped from Captain Thomas Boulevard north to Center Street, where thousands of revelers, many of them donning patriotic colors and waving American flags, lined the 1.5-mile course.
Benson, who lives on Eaton Street with his wife of 40 years, Alice, was selected by the West Haven Veterans Council, which helps the city organize the annual parade, for his years of service to the Army, his fellow veterans and his community.
He is a longtime member of West Haven Vietnam Veterans, formerly Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 647, and served as president in the early 2000s.
Before and during that time, Benson was instrumental in raising funds to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bradley Point Park. To this day, he helps maintain the grounds of the memorial, dedicated Nov. 12, 2003.
For the past four years, Benson has volunteered at the West Haven Veterans Museum & Learning Center, 30 Hood Terrace, where he gives tours to seniors, schoolchildren and veterans.
The hourlong parade included a flyover by a C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft operated by the Connecticut Air National Guard.
The event, in memory of the deceased members of the U.S. armed forces of all wars, is the oldest parade of its kind in southern Connecticut.
In addition to nine marching bands — the most in recent memory — and a legion of veterans groups, the procession showcased the traditional contingent of youth organizations and sports leagues, dance and Scout troupes, fraternal organizations and service clubs, local and state leaders, police officers and firefighters.