WELLSVILLE - A bright blue sky greeted the crowd whose members came to exchange memories both happy and sad, and express gratitude during Wellsville's Veterans Day ceremony Saturday morning.
Vietnam War veteran Mike Linn served as master of ceremonies for the event, which began with a parade on Main Street from the village hall to the Veteran's Memorial on the Fourth Street Square. Village police and fire department units escorted the procession, which included a float carrying members of the Tri-State Korean War Veterans Chapter 126 in Canton as special guests.
Following an invocation from First Christian Church youth minister Brandon Russell, Mayor Susan Haugh told the crowd of the important distinction between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. She explained that Memorial Day is set aside specifically to honor those who lost their lives in military action, while Veterans Day is for showing appreciation to all who have served, living or dead. Haugh said it was important to take the opportunity on this day to thank those surviving veterans who gave so much of themselves. "We deeply appreciate the sacrifices they have made in order to keep our country free," she said.
Wellsville village employee Steve Poynter gives members of the Tri-State Korean War Veterans Chapter 126 a lift down Main Street to the village Veterans Memorial during the Veterans Day parade held Saturday morning. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Several Wellsville veterans also addressed the crowd, speaking of their wartime experiences while they served. Bill Williams, who drove medical supply trucks with the Army in Vietnam, recalled the unease of traveling down Purple Heart Road, where sniper fire and land mines were common. "It was different from driving in Ohio," he said with understatement.
In the days before internet and cell phones, mail was the primary form of communication, and long delays were the norm. Bill says soldiers could go as long as two weeks with nothing, then suddenly be deluged with a backlog of letters and packages.
Bill and his wife of 46 years, Karen, were married during his leave following basic training in 1966. She remembers faithfully mailing care packages to him every week, more frequently than most. Bill says their arrival at his base were eagerly anticipated by both he and his comrades. "Everyone would line up. 'Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?'" he said.
Karen said she filled the time while Bill was away with saving money from her job and planning for a trip to Hawaii, where they eventually met during an "R and R" break. She also saved towards furnishings for an apartment they would get when he came home. "I just worked on those goals and waited for a letter every day," she said.
Though no one in his company was killed, Bill recalls the terrible irony of one colleague who was grievously wounded in a mortar attack outside their base just as he was preparing to rotate home to America. The serviceman survived, but his numerous injuries included the loss of both legs. "He was carrying his duffel bag, and he was walking to catch a ride to Saigon when he was hit," Williams said. "That kind of stuff really sticks in your mind."
Bill's son, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Craig Williams, has the unfortunate distinction of sharing similar memories of his time in Iraq. During his first deployment, Craig lost a close friend to a roadside IED explosion. His supply convoy pulled up on the wreckage 10 minutes later and provided cover until a quick-response force arrived. "It's hard to explain what you feel when you realize what just happened," Craig said. He added that the funeral on base was the toughest thing he's ever had to face. Craig echoed his father's words, saying it was an experience he hasn't forgotten and that using it as a learning experience is the way of dealing with the memory. "You make friends with it," he said.
Craig was awarded a Bronze Star during his second tour in Iraq for calling in a medevac helicopter following another attack. "There was a lot of stuff written into it, but long story short, that's it," he said modestly. Today, Craig serves as a recruiter in Steubenville and plans to retire next year.
Father and son say they both enjoyed the ceremony and shared their fondness for the village that put it all together. "It was very Wellsville," Craig said. "It was small, but it worked," he said.