10 May Phil Kraft Day declared in Darien
Phil Kraft, past commander of Darien’s VFW Post #6933 and former chairman of Darien’s Monuments & Ceremonies Commission, was honored at a party for him and his wife, Peach, at the VFW last Saturday, when Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson presented Phil with a proclamation declaring May 5 as Phil Kraft Day.
After years of local involvement the Krafts has decided to make a transition to Tempe, Arizona, near where Peach went to college. The town of Darien will need to make a transition of its own as it loses a familiar face, dedicated volunteer and caring neighbor.
Darien is home to valuable town traditions and Kraft has been at the center of them for more than two decades. Phil volunteered and served as a member of the Monuments & Ceremonies Commission for 22 years and as a chairman for 12 years. He performed the duties as master of ceremonies for all of Darien’s annual ceremonies including the Memorial Day Parade Ceremony, Flag Day, Veterans Day, and the 9/11 ceremony.
Kraft was instrumental in bringing Wreaths Across America to Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery and was recently invited by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy to serve as a founding member of the Veterans Advisory Council.
Speaking to the Darien Times, Kraft said he came to understand the different values reflected by each of the town’s annual events and when speaking to local residents he tried to channel the spirit of the occasion. The somber procession of the Memorial Day parade was one of the most challenging ceremonies Kraft said, but also the most rewarding. In contrast, Kraft said the unique nature of the town’s Push and Pull Parade during Fourth of July celebrations was one of the town’most fun events.
Darien maintains a traditional Memorial Day ceremony with a parade led by the Darien VFW Post and that tradition will continue under new leadership. Kraft said David and Karen Polett, the new chairman and secretary of the town’s Monuments & Ceremonies Commission, are well-equipped and enthusiastic about the role.
“Tradition is huge, because there’s so little of it left. We’ve maintained the level of dignity with Memorial Day and Dave and Karen Pollet have taken over the lead on this,” Kraft said.
He continued, “They made sure that we all maintained that level, it was the three of us working together to ensure that the parade was, in spirit, a procession to the cemetery. That’s what it started as, and that’s what it is today. Other towns throw candy, we don’t do that.”
Professionally, Kraft currently serves as executive director of the HonorBound Foundation, which has been based in Darien since 1989. A nonprofit organization, HonorBound offers veterans case-managed social services, emergency financial relief, advocacy, and help with services and equipment. The organization’s stated goal is to restore the honor, dignity and self-respect of veterans in need, something Kraft, an army veteran himself, believes every service member deserves.
HonorBound will remain based in Darien and Kraft will stay on as Executive Director in the coming years. Having rebranded from the National Veterans Service Fund in 2017, the organization is still growing and helped more than 2,300 veterans last year. Kraft described the organization as being focused on sustainable outcomes; HonorBound works to make sure their contributions will have a permanent and lasting impact on the lives of veterans.
Kraft said HonorBound is willing to assist any veteran who can prove they served honorably for at least one year. Some organizations choose to focus on veterans from specific wars or those suffering from a certain level of disability. Kraft said HonorBound’s willingness to help veterans before they reach a true point of crisis is a part of protecting their dignity.
“Our requirements are simple, we don’t restrict to post 9/11, we don’t restrict to combat wounded… On a daily basis we help guys who just got out, we help guys from World War II.” Kraft said.
The organization helped a new Haven veteran pay for repairs to his heating system, giving his home heat for the first time in six years after a concerned neighbor reached out. HonorBound also intervened to help a 94-year-old veteran find a new home in Hartford after a relative reported that a landlord was trying to force the senior veteran out. Even after the man was relocated, HonorBound worked to ensure that the state would review the landlord’s housing practices.
Though the Krafts in the process of planning their move to Arizona, Phil said he will still return to Darien on occasion for business with HonorBound. For more information on the HonorBound Foundation visit www.honorboundfoundation.org.