By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Army Air Forces veteran Frank J. Corso and Navy vet Mike Pimer will lead the city’s Memorial Day parade as grand marshals when it steps off at 10:30 a.m. May 31.
Corso, who turns 100 on July 28, and Pimer, 83, will guide the 40-unit procession of veterans, dignitaries and bands along the 1.5-mile parade course, which goes up Campbell Avenue from Captain Thomas Boulevard to Center Street.
Corso, who served in World War II in 1942-45, and Pimer, who served stateside in 1955-61 and again in 1962-68, embraced the honor with typical grace and humility.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Corso said of being named one of West Haven’s two grand marshals. “I’m very honored and pleased.”
“I never thought I’d be up there in the front row,” he said, chuckling.
Pimer said he felt great when told he was accompanying his friend Corso as a grand marshal.
“I never would’ve accepted (grand marshal) if weren’t such an honor, especially serving with Frank,” Pimer said. “I’ve known Frank for 50 or 60 years.”
Corso and Pimer were tapped by the West Haven Veterans Council, which helps the city organize the annual parade, for their years of service to the military, their fellow vets and their community — the latter of which is perhaps the cornerstone of the qualifications for grand marshal, council President Dave Ricci said.
“West Haven is very lucky to share Memorial Day with Frank Corso,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said. “With just over 4,000 World War II veterans living in Connecticut today, honoring Mr. Corso with this small tribute reminds us to always remember the Greatest Generation.
“We also welcome an opportunity to celebrate Mike Pimer, his military service and his many volunteer hours in service to our city. The Pimer family is well known for public service, a tradition that Mr. Pimer may have started in 1955 when he enlisted in the Navy.”
Although last year’s parade was postponed because of the coronavirus, this year’s will take place in accordance with federal and state guidelines, city Health Director Maureen B. Lillis said.
“The city will follow all current and future COVID-19 directives by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Public Health to ensure the health and safety of both participants and spectators,” said Lillis, adding that no vendors of any kind are allowed along the parade route.
The 2021 edition of southern Connecticut’s oldest and largest Memorial Day parade has no rain date and will feature three marching divisions and a military division, as well as special accommodations for disabled veterans.
The procession will include an eight-seat golf cart carrying former grand marshals that is bedecked with a star gracing the names of those deceased. Other veterans will ride on a float.
It will also include a flyover by a C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft operated by the Connecticut Air National Guard.
Corso and Pimer will steer the procession from a golf cart flanked by the West Haven Police Honor Guard.
The hourlong parade, in memory of the deceased members of the U.S. armed forces of all wars, will showcase the city’s legion of veterans groups.
The procession will include the West Haven High School Band, the Lancraft Fife & Drum Corps, the Village Drill Team, the Rock House School of Music, and drummers and cultural dancers from the Philippine American Association of Connecticut.
It will include Miss Connecticut 2021 Sapna Raghavan, Miss Connecticut Outstanding Teen 2021 Aicha Diallo, a junior at West Haven High, and Jeeps from the Connecticut Beach Cruisers.
The procession will also spotlight the traditional contingent of youth organizations and sports leagues, dance troupes and Scout troops, fraternal organizations and service clubs, local and state leaders, police officers and firefighters.
Corso, who has lived most of his 99-plus years in West Haven, was born on Jones Street and moved to White Street when he was 2. He attended Washington School and was drafted by the Army in 1942 at age 21.
He was assigned to the 302nd Fighter Control Squadron of the Army Air Forces on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and served as a radio operator on the ground crew, a team of soldiers who maintained and repaired aircraft.
Corso’s squadron participated in the Allied island-hopping campaign against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater of World War II, including the battles of Saipan and Guam in 1944 and the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
He was honorably discharged as a corporal in November 1945. The Army Air Forces became the Air Force in 1947.
Corso is a member of the Connecticut-based Iwo Jima Survivors Association Inc., formed in 1987, and helped raise money for the National Iwo Jima Memorial in Newington.
In the decades after the war, he worked for his father, Thomas Corso, at Young T. Corso, a banana wholesaler in New Haven that supplied area groceries and markets.
Frank Corso and his wife, Mary Amendola Corso, lived for many years on Center Street and raised two daughters: Ceil Corso Welch and Frances Corso Nardi.
The couple were married for 74 years and witnessed numerous family milestones, including the births of five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, until Mary Corso’s death in November 2020 at age 100.
Pimer, a lifelong Westie, was born and raised on Second Avenue and graduated in 1957 from the old West Haven High School on Main Street.
The day after graduation, he joined the Navy at age 18 — although he enlisted two years earlier as an inactive member — and served at Naval Station Mayport, a major Navy base near Jacksonville, Florida.
Pimer was a member of the elite Harbor Defense Unit and served aboard a mine-sweeping boat that defended harbor and coastal areas with controlled mines and other measures. He was a frogman, or diver, whose duties included laying mines and cables, “so nobody blew up our ships,” Pimer said.
He was honorably discharged as an engineman third class in October 1961.
Less than a year later, Pimer rejoined the Navy as a reservist and served for six years. He was honorably discharged as a petty officer in September 1968.
Not much has changed, however, since Pimer’s Navy days, noting that he still dives regularly.
“It keeps me young,” said Pimer, who served in Flotilla 24-11 of West Haven’s Coast Guard Auxiliary for 55 years.
Pimer’s passion for marine navigation is evident in his lifework.
For 46 years, he owned and operated Professional Sea Service Inc., a West Haven watercraft company that transported Coast Guard and immigration personnel and cargo to and from ships outside of New Haven Harbor.
He also owned and operated Underwater Swimmers Inc., a dive shop at Main Street and Kelsey Avenue, for a number of years.
For 16 years, he enforced the regulations governing the use of New Haven Harbor as the joint harbor master of New Haven and West Haven.
His oldest son, Robert Pimer, has since followed in his footsteps and succeeded him as West Haven’s harbor master in 2015.
Mike Pimer stays active in the community and on the sea. His expertise in all things marine navigation has made him an indispensable member of the West Haven Harbor Management Commission.
He and his wife of 58 years, Susanne Bradley Pimer, live in the West Shore neighborhood of Warner Avenue. They have three other children, Bradley and Eric Pimer and Gail Pimer Glover, as well as 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Before the parade, all participants and spectators are urged to review the following guidelines:
— Participants and spectators must wear face masks and maintain social distancing of 6 feet, per CDC and DPH guidelines.
— The city has the right to refuse a group or an organization from participating at the time of the parade if those guidelines are not followed.