In August 1955, Connecticut experienced some of the worst flooding in its recorded history after two major hurricanes — Connie and Diane — dumped between 20 and 30 inches of rain on the state in the span of a single week. All of the state’s major waterways, including the Connecticut, Quinebaug, Farmington, and Housatonic rivers, overflowed their banks, completely destroying hundreds of factories, marinas, warehouses, and homes. Entire houses were lifted off their foundations and carried downstream, as the main streets of Winsted, Putnam, and Torrington became raging rivers of swift-moving water. A state report estimated that losses of public and private property due to the flooding from Connie and Diane totaled over $1.5 billion in today’s dollars.
Amid the countless scenes of loss and destruction, one could also find tales of bravery and heroism, as Connecticans banded together to help each other through one of the state’s worst natural disasters. One especially memorable account was about Master Sergeant Albert Pensiero, one of the many Connecticut National Guardsmen dispatched to help rescue stranded Connecticans when the flooding was at its worst. His actions that day, for which Pensiero became the first recipient of the newly created Connecticut Medal of Valor on December 27, 1957, were described at length in his official citation:
“Master Sergeant Albert Pensiero, displaying great courageous action, and at extreme personal risk, rescued more than twenty-four people from flooded homes in Unionville, and brought them to safety on high ground. Upon completion of this deed, Sergeant Pensiero, through many hazards and over many obstacles, was able to bring the Army [Duck Boat] with much needed medical supplies to the flood-ravaged town of Winsted.
Through Sergeant Pensiero’s skillful handling and careful maneuvering of this military vehicle, although previously untrained in its operation, he was responsible for the saving of many lives and the prevention of greater tragedy by bringing the vehicle loaded with rescued persons through the raging flood waters of both towns to safety.”
The Connecticut Medal of Valor was established to recognize men or women serving in the state’s military service who display “conspicuous gallantry, at the risk of his [or her] life, above and beyond the call of duty, while on military service.” To date, more than six decades after its creation, fewer than 20 men and women have earned the honor. Bravery in a time inundated with danger was remembered, and great valor rewarded, today in Connecticut history.
“The Connecticut Medal of Valor,” State of Connecticut Military Department
“The Flood of ’55: Memories,” Hartford Courant