Memorial Day events held throughout the Valley

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Retired Marine M/Sgt Robert Vernon Sr. Stands on Putnam Street as the annual Marietta Memorial Day parade passes by. Vernon, 95, served in the Pacific Theater of World War II as part of a B-25 squadron stationed in the Solomon Islands.

With the blessing of warm, fair weather, two parades wound their way through the streets of Marietta on the morning of Memorial Day.

The first set out at 8 .a.m. From Harmar Elementary School to the Harmar Cemetery, where wreaths and flowers were laid on graves of the war dead, a rifle salute was fired and in the quiet afterward, a lone bugler from VFW Post 5108, Robert Jenkins, played ‘Taps’.

George Wulfert, 87, a veteran of the Korean War and squadron leader for post 5108, said afterward, “We do this to remember and pay tribute to those who have gone before, so people don’t forget.”

Post commander Bernie Cleveland, Jr., said it was the 74th consecutive parade the post had organized for Memorial Day. Cleveland read the names of 21 war dead in the cemetery.

John Howard, 71 and a Vietnam vet, didn’t have to think long about the meaning of Memorial Day. He attends the parade and ceremony every year.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Look at where we live. We’ve got a choice about what we do, where we do it, when we do it. You can live here, Florida, Montana, anywhere you want. You have the freedom to do what want to do, when you want to do it, because of the people we’re honoring here.”

Cleveland said the day was “to honor those who went before us,” but he added that the VFW’s mission is more than that.

“We honor their legacy every day with what we do,” he said.

The VFW group joined the day’s second parade, organized by American Legion Post 64, which began moving from East Muskingum Park on Front Street at 10 a.m., turning east on Putnam Street through tightly packed throngs of people lining either side of the street.

Retired Marine Master Sergeant Robert Vernon, Sr., stood straight and silent in his service uniform as the parade passed Third Street. The 95-year old said he served 17 months on the Solomon Islands in the World War II Pacific Theater as part of a B-25 heavy bomber squadron. Being in the Marines, in that place, “was the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “There was nothing about me that wasn’t changed by being in the Marines.”

“My squadron still meets,” he said. “But there are only about a dozen of us left. It was originally 700.”

The day was a solemn occasion, but the Marietta High School Wall of Sound played occasional light-hearted numbers and upbeat rhythms, candy was tossed from floats and children scrambled for it, and Jacob Fletcher entertained the crowds by riding a unicycle through the floats.

“My wife is in AMVETS, and I volunteer as a driver for the Washington County Veterans Service office,” he said. “I’ve ridden in a few parades, trying to bring attention to AMVETS.”

AMVETS is a national organization that advocates for veterans of every service branch.

Fletcher, 35, said he started riding a unicycle when he was six. “My parents got it for me, and I was just sort of natural,” he said.

Residents of homes on Fifth Street got front row seats because they were on the parade route. Waiting for the parade to start, John Myers and his family set up a canopy with snacks and beverages by the curb in front of an 1855 house they’re restoring. It was a family gathering, with his son and daughter and their families living within a block.

Myers, who served in the Army during the 1960s, said he is involved in Scouting – nearby, two girls in uniform were applying patriotic temporary tattoos to their cheeks to get ready to march in the parade – and the scouts’ tradition of setting flags on the graves of the war dead has had an impact on them.

“They’re learning a lot from placing those flags,” he said.

Further up Fifth Street, Will Dimit and Marilyn Ashcraft greeted neighbors going by the porch of their home. Dimit said one of his regrets is that he never served in the military.

“I graduated from Marietta High School in 1953, and 18 of my classmates signed up for the Marines. It was toward the end of the Korean War,” he said. “Without people like that, we wouldn’t be able to sit here like this today.”

“So many gave the ultimate measure,” Ashcraft said. She graduated from high school in 1964, during the Vietnam era, and one of her classmates died in the war.

“His name was Johnnie Keaton. He was killed in 1965. He was 19,” she said. “I went to the memorial service, and I was thinking about how only a year before we had been laughing together, just having so much fun. That’s what really brought it home for me.”

At a glance

≤ Number of casualties from World War II, Vietnam and Korean wars from Washington County listed on honorstates.org: 155

≤ Civil War dead from Washington County: More than 640, partial list of confirmed dead

≤ Operation Iraqi Freedom: At least 1 (documented, 2004)