Heroes live quietly among us in Westport; here are some

The other day, I met Ben Pepper. He has lived in Westport since 1958. I moved here as a young child with my parents two years ago. However, for almost 70 years, I have not heard his name.

what a shame. He is a remarkable man. Five months old at 100, he still lives — alone — in the North Avenue home he and his wife, Frances, built when Eisenhower was president.

Pepper spent his professional life as a photographer. He also owned two liquor stores; His wife ran the Kiddy Closet children’s clothing business in Norwalk. The couple helped build Temple Israel on Collitown Road.

In all my years here, I’ve missed more than Ben Pepper’s name. I miss his stories too.

A paratrooper in World War II, he earned a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge. A soldier sharing his foxhole was killed next to him.

Pepper would have been a part of D-Day – probably not survived – but he broke his back on the previous jump. En route to the Ardennes Forest, he survived a plane crash in England.

I could be forgiven for not knowing any of Pepper’s stories, as he has yet to share them publicly. Although Westport’s Memorial Day parade has long honored World War II veterans — and as their numbers dwindle, the ceremony gets worse each year — he chose not to participate. He never marched or rode in a convertible. That’s not Pepper’s style.

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Sitting at his son and daughter-in-law’s house and finally listening to him tell those stories — and seeing his Purple Heart and dog tags, which he proudly keeps among other mementos of the war — I realized how important this was. Westport to recognize its heroes. Even if they avoid recognition.
We do it every year on Memorial Day. Now that Korean War veterans — even those who served in Vietnam — are reaching a certain age, it’s more important than ever for the younger generation to see them. I remember my father describing the impact of seeing Civil War vets marching in his own Memorial Day celebrations. It shows how young we really are. But it also reinforces the notion that we should never forget our past.

Today’s youth should see and respect all kinds of heroes. Heroes are all around. However, we don’t always point them out to the youth, who should be inspired and uplifted.

Another Westporter’s name that I never knew came to my attention recently. Martin Rosenfeld, 95, has died. He lived in Westport from 1998 to 2021. During that time, he and his wife, Martha, contributed more than 16,000 volunteers to Norwalk Hospital. He helped patients, visitors and staff in the ambulatory surgical waiting room – a stressful place for everyone, but he reduced worry day by day and year after year.

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Martin and Martha found a home in the Conservative synagogue. When surrounded by a young community with young children, they jumped right in.
The couple helped out in the office. They shined silver on Torah scrolls and gave Passover seders to people without local families.

Martin learned to read the Torah for the first time at the age of 70. Until the pandemic diverted synagogue services to Zoom, he was the synagogue’s best reader. He and his wife enthusiastically participated in adult education programs, which inspired other participants.

Westport facts in the life of Martin Rosenfeld. His back story is also fascinating. Like Bronx native Ben Pepper (and DeWitt Clinton High School graduate), he served in World War II. He then attended Yale University, where he majored in Japanese.

How many interesting people live and walk among us, whose stories we mostly – or finally – don’t hear until it’s too late? What are the men and women who grew up during the Depression, fought for their country (and saved the world) and then lived a quiet suburban life, finding time to raise families and build community, never once seeking praise? Or a pat on the back?

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My generation – the baby boomers – followed them. We were all about ourselves. We had numbers and strength and we used both. We thought we were doing the right thing by the planet, but we didn’t shy away from the spotlight.

Later generations are all about themselves. Young people – even teenagers – are burning their personal brands today. She lives her life openly on multiple social media platforms. Smartphone and TV cameras are almost extensions of their bodies.

On television, movie screens, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok, everyone can feel like a hero today. As Ben Pepper and Martin Rosenfeld demonstrate, heroes live quietly among us.

Although we don’t know their names.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer whose “Woog’s World” appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.


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