Gary Holder-Winfield laid a personal wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Long Wharf Friday afternoon. He also lifted up two small American flags that had been previously placed there but now were touching the ground.
As a vet, he knew to do that. Holder-Winfield, who served five years in the U.S. Navy, is the only vet among the seven Democratic candidates for mayor this year. He said service in the military doesn’t automatically make a person a better candidate. But he argued that it instills useful qualities in a politician like judiciousness and a willingness to avoid going along with the crowd.
He shared those thoughts on a bright blustery Flag Day, which marks the adoption of the flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.
He was coming from a meet-and-greet at Casa Otonal and pausing at the memorial before returning to work, then to his nightly campaigning.
Holder-Winfield said he doesn’t lay a wreath every Flag Day. But every June 14, along with Memorial Day and other occasions that salute the contributions of vets, Holder-Winfield said, he pauses and thinks.
“Before my service I didn’t mark these days,” he said. Five years as an electrician on the nuclear carrier Enterprise changed that.
“Most of us don’t interact with people in the military, [thinking] it’s for poor people. I just think about what people have sacrificed,” he said.
He noted that Flag Day is not a federal holiday, or a state holiday (except in Pennsylvania). “We don’t need a day off,” he said.
Holder-Winfield recalled that in 2006 his carrier entered the Persian Gulf on patrol. As the ship picked up speed, he found himself in an atmosphere like in a war movie, with a lot of rah-rah and we’re-going-to-kick-butt talk.
“No, we’re not,” he remembered saying.
“I’m largely an anti-war person even though I was in the military. [Yet]I still believe in the military,” he said.
He added that the flag, and military service, would have more meaning here if our country had a system like Israel’s, where everyone serves.
“People would think different because all our children would be at risk. I’m torn between our system and Israel’s system,” he said.
Holder-Winfield is part of an informal group of veterans in Hartford who support legislation to benefit those who have served.
He was asked if as mayor he would support special programs, such as sending them to the front of the list for public-housing apartments.
“I’m not saying vets should be at the top of every list,” he said. But he endorsed the idea of special courts with alternatives to incarceration for veterans of the recent wars who are coping with drug and PTSD challenges.
“Some preferential treatment makes sense” as long as it addresses an issue legitimately unique to vets, he said.