Community honors military veterans with 'hero' tribute

September 08, 2003|EMILY BURTON

Danville honored its heroes Saturday, blending military veterans from as far back as World War II with returning soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Celebration of American Heroes featured a parade, speeches, entertainment and military ceremonies as a way its organizers said the community could honor military veterans of all campaigns.

Little girls in cotton dresses and pigtails climbed into a 65-ton, $5 million tank as fathers in camouflage uniforms held their baby brothers. Little flags on wooden sticks found their way into children's hands as guest speakers remembered those who have served their country.

The diverse crowd, speckled with veterans in hats and fatigues, took advantage of the perfect festival weather to remember those who have served our country.


"Everyone I've run into so far has been pleased with it," said event organizer Jeff Peek, Danville police chief. "We're very pleased with the turnout, because we put this together spur of the moment."

"This stuff here gives me goose bumps, the good kind," said event volunteer Myrna Miller as she handed out schedules to parade watchers. "You get an idea of how great our country is, and we have to fight for it."

Behind the noise of the parade, with the snapping Stars and Stripes in an azure sky providing a patriotic backdrop, veterans perched in clusters on brick walls and fountain rims and drifted back to long-forgotten battlefields, often remembering with pride how the war was won. Sometimes they remembered with tears those friends that did not return.

"I made the D-day invasion on the beach in Normandy," said Kenneth Irvin, Navy veteran of World War II. "I landed tanks on the beach 30 minutes prior to H-hour."

"The good times was coming home to the family, but the bad was coming home to the college kids protesting," said Ron Abney, Vietnam veteran and senior vice commander of VFW Post 3634. "They made us feel pretty cheap."

"Thirty degrees below zero, monsoon rains in the summer, snow up to you know where," said the Post's junior vice commander, Frank Witte, of his service in Korea. "I don't know how they fought there, it was hard enough to just survive there without fighting. When I got off the plane in Oakland, California, I bent down an kissed the ground."

"When they gave us our aptitude test in the Army, I didn't know anything about radio, but I got a 148 out of 150, and I didn't know what I was doing," said Melvin Holmes, who directed artillery with Morse Code at the Battle of the Bulge in WW II. "Taking 20 words a minute and sending 20 was considered good. When I got out, I was taking 28 words a minute and sending 26."

Beside Holmes, Art Chinn watched the crowd and shook hands with fellow veterans before the guest speakers took the stage in Constitution Square.

"We chased (General) Irwin Rommell through Africa," said Chinn, W.W.II veteran, of Hitler's top tank commander.

Chinn paused when he remembered the sight that greeted his homecoming over half a century ago.

"There was the Statue of Liberty with a flag," said Chinn.

thoughts drifted past the crowd and the Army transportation trucks lining Second Street. As Boy Scouts and band members walked by, he recalled sights and sounds decades old.

"The flag was waving, 'saying welcome home boys', but a lot of them didn't come back," said Chinn before bowing his head a moment, voice cracking. "And that's what we're doing here today."

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