DARIEN — Phil Kraft has dedicated much of his life to helping veterans.

“It wasn’t so much that I decided, as it was decided for me,” said Kraft, a Vietnam War veteran and former television commercial actor, who will serve as Darien’s 2017 Memorial Day Parade speaker.

In 1989, Kraft was looking to make a change out of acting. A friend of his was working at Darien-based nonprofit National Veterans Services Fund (NVSF), a veterans advocacy group, and started Kraft on a job going through records of veterans who had filed lawsuits over exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic chemical used extensively during Vietnam.

His involvement in the issue and in veterans affairs continued to grow from that point, eventually landing him a spot on the Agent Orange Commission in Washington, DC, founded and chaired by retired Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Jr.

Kraft is now president and executive director of NVSF, is a 2011 Connecticut Veterans’ Hall of Fame inductee and a longtime member of the town’s Monuments and Ceremonies Commission.

“Everything I did in my life up to that point,” Kraft said, of his turn from acting to advocacy, “Made me the right candidate to do outreach. I enjoyed speaking, I’m comfortable on the phone. I could talk to people and have them realize they could trust us.”

The Grand Marshal, Ned Goodnow, received a Purple Heart in World War II as an infantryman and was part of the formation of NATO forces in Germany during the Korean War.

“Mr. Goodnow is one of those guys who has quietly gone about being a remarkable citizen,” Kraft said. “There was no one who seemed a better candidate.”

“We’re honored that they’ve both agreed to participate,” said Karen Pollet, of the Monuments and Ceremonies Commission, of the Guest Speaker and Grand Marshal.

According to Chairman of the Parade Committee Sara Zagrodzky, people are asked to gather at the Goodwives Shopping Center on May 29 between 9 and 9:45 a.m. The parade will travel down Brookside Avenue, before turning onto Post Road and ending at Spring Grove Cemetery, where a ceremony for Darien’s veterans will be led by the town’s Monuments and Ceremonies Commission, including speeches by Kraft and Goodnow and the laying of wreaths for veterans buried in the cemetery.

“I encourage people to come all the way to the cemetery. The parade doesn’t really end until the ceremony is over. I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself, don’t have a barbecue. We’re saying take that extra half hour, place a wreath,” Kraft said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1