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Memorial Day marked with parade, reverence in Pa.

June 01, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A decorated U.S. Marine veteran recognized a number of historic conflicts during a Memorial Day service here Monday, but he wanted to pay special tribute to Vietnam War veterans.

James E. Gilliam, speaking at a Memorial Day event at the Marine Corps League on Grant Street, said he realized that Vietnam veterans have been treated poorly at times.

But Gilliam recognized Vietnam veterans as group who did a good job under the circumstances they were in and said they probably ended up having a profound effect on world history.

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Gilliam said he believes veterans' duty in Vietnam was a contributing factor to the fall of communism in Russia and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gilliam asked those in attendance to given Vietnam veterans a hand.

The group clapped and a few started to stand.

More began to stand as they clapped and the reaction spread around the room.

George Kohler, one of the Vietnam veterans in attendance, said he was touched by the recognition.

After the ceremony, Kohler declined to talk about some of his most difficult experiences during the Vietnam War. He said he was in the freshwater Navy during the conflict.

"I thank God I'm here," Kohler said.

Gilliam saw action in a number of places during World War II, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Gilliam, who is an ordained Methodist minister, is a decorated veteran, having received three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.

The Monday service, which was sponsored by the Joint Veterans Council of Chambersburg, followed a Memorial Day parade in downtown Chambersburg. With a steady rain falling, the event moved to the Marine Corps League for Gilliam's remarks.

Gilliam recalled major military events such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and how American youths made the ultimate sacrifice during those events.

Gilliam recalled when Allied troops, in their push toward Japan in World War II, had to march onto the island of Tarawa in the Pacific. Because of shallow water around the island, soldiers had to wade for about 500 yards.

They faced heavy enemy fire, and the fighting was so intense the ocean water turned red with blood, Gilliam said.

Sharks, attracted by the smell of the blood, began feeding on the dead bodies, Gilliam said.

"This is a day of remembering, isn't it? And remembering is not always easy. Sometimes it's heartbreaking," said Gilliam, an Osceola Mills, Pa., preacher who has served at six churches in Pennsylvania and two in Maryland.

The ceremony included a 21-gun salute in the parking lot and an rendition of "Taps."

During the parade Monday morning, units proceeded west from Lincoln Way and Fifth Avenue to Memorial Square.

Spectators turned out to see the event despite a steady rain.

"We always come to this parade," said Anne Hill, who had her two young children in tow. Hill said she planned to go to a picnic later in the day.

"I'm not sure how that will work," Hill said.

Parades also were scheduled Monday in the Franklin County, Pa., communities of Waynesboro and Greencastle.

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