By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Honoring deceased military veterans at funerals is just one of many ways in which Bob Coffey has served the community of Bristol.
Currently, the commander of the American Legion Post 2 Military honor guard, Coffey said offering comfort to the families of the deceased veterans in almost all of Hartford and Litchfield counties is a service he feels proud of. Serving as commander of the honor guard also is just one of many ways in which Coffey has volunteered his time in and outside the Bristol community.
Next month, Coffey will be recognized for his service during the 53rd Annual Mum Festival, since he has been named as this year’s “Hometown Hero.” During the festival, a ceremony recognizing the Hometown Hero will take place on the main stage on Memorial Boulevard, as well as a celebratory breakfast before the Mum Parade on Sunday, Sept. 28.
“This did take me by surprise—I wasn’t expecting it,” said Coffey, adding how countless other veterans in the community also deserve to be Hometown Hero. “It’s an honor.”
Recently, the honor guard, which performs military honors at for more than 400 funerals annually, and attends wakes for members of the American Legion who pass away as well as performs Military Honors upon request. The honor guard also marches and performs the firing squad during a ceremony at Memorial Boulevard on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as during the Mum Festival.
Recently, the honor guard received a State of Connecticut General Assembly Official Citation for its services. A military veteran himself, Coffey said it is hard to put into the words the kind of impact the honor guard makes.
“It is emotional, but it is a good emotional because you’re proud to do it for [the veteran’s] family in his honor,” said Coffey.
Born and raised in Bristol, Coffey worked at New Departure before entering the U.S. Army in 1966. After completing military police training at Fort Gordon in Georgia, Coffey was sent to Vietnam for a year. When he returned to the U.S., Coffey was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J. for seven months before receiving an honorable discharge at the rank of Spec. 4.
“I liked the regimented life,” said Coffey.
Upon returning home from the army, Coffey returned to New Departure for two years until his father found a newspaper classified listing for a job opening at the Bristol Police Department. In 1970, Coffey was sworn in as a Bristol police officer and served in the department until he retired in 1993. Looking back on what inspired him to become an officer, Coffey reminisced the days when he worked at the House of Pizza on School Street as a teenager when he would see police officers gather there to grab a bite to eat.
“I got to know them all and a lot of them were fairly new themselves,” said Coffey. “A lot of these guys are still around.”
Coffey added the most rewarding part about serving as a police officer in Bristol was the camaraderie between his fellow officers.
“It was a unique group and when you band together, you never lose it,” said Coffey, noting how his connections with former fellow officers stayed the same even though he has not seen them in awhile.
While serving as police officer, Coffey enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard, and made his way up the ladder, becoming the support platoon sergeant in 1987, and not long after, became the first sergeant for Company C 1/169th Infantry Regiment in Enfield. He stayed in the National Guard until he retired in 1993 as master sergeant. In 1994, Coffey worked as a security officer shift supervisor at ESPN for 15 years before retiring in 2009.
For over 40 years, Coffey has been a member of the American Legion Post 2, serving as the senior vice commander in the past 20 years. As senior vice commander, Coffey handles membership, which has been the largest statewide with over 700 members to date. Whether serving on the Post Baseball Committee or volunteering his time for the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Christmas shop program for hospitalized veterans, Coffey has jumped at nearly every volunteer opportunity as a member of Post 2.
This past spring, Coffey took part in the Connecticut Day of Honor Flight for American Warrior Project, which brings World War II veterans to Washington D.C. to visit their WWII Memorial. Funded by donations, the Day of Honor trip also included visits to the Navy, Korean, Air Force, and Marine Corp/Iwo Jima Memorials. During the trip, “guardians,” who are next-generation family members or volunteers escorted and cared for the veterans. The trip is free of charge for the veterans.
Out of 108 World War II veterans who attended, eight were from Bristol. For Coffey, he could not even describe how the event touched everyone who went.
“It’s hard to explain what it felt like,” said Coffey, who has won various awards over the years from the American Legion.