BOWLING GREEN - Patricia Miller went out of her way to greet Jim Spencer yesterday morning during the town's annual Memorial Day parade.
Though Mrs. Miller didn't know Mr. Spencer, 81, who was taking shade near Wood County's memorial garden in front of the courthouse, she wanted her 4-year-old son, Justin, to meet him. A hat he was sporting indicated Mr. Spencer had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, an achievement that shocked and impressed Mrs. Miller.
“God bless you both,” she said to Mr. Spencer and his lifelong friend and fellow World War II Army buddy, Lefty Snyder, 86, standing nearby.
Mrs. Miller, a Pittsburgh resident visiting her sister in Bowling Green, said her father was a Vietnam veteran who has suffered from frequent nightmares ever since returning from the war. “I want my son to understand this and appreciate what these men have done for our country,” she said.
Her gesture brought smiles to Mr. Spencer and Mr. Snyder.
“I find that it helps,” said Mr. Spencer, who served with Bowling Green's 148th Infantry Regiment of the 37th National Guard Division. “Our schools don't teach a damn thing about World War II, much less Korea and Vietnam.”
Mrs. Miller marveled at the three memorials west of the courthouse building - one for each of the wars in which Mr. Spencer served. “The memorials here are greater than those I have seen in larger cities,” she said.
The parade, which featured various veterans groups, scout troops, and the Bowling Green High School marching band, began at the post office at Main and Washington streets, stopped at the courthouse to pay tribute to those soldiers listed on the memorials, and ended at Shadygrove Cemetery at the edge of the Bowling Green State University campus.
Dave Sieving, 75, an Army veteran who served in the Pacific, figures he has attended about 40 consecutive parades.
“It's a celebration that I'm still here,” he said as he stood along the Main Street route.
Despite the fine weather, the crowd was sparse, a trend confronting communities across the nation as the number of veterans continues to dwindle.
“There are not as many as there used to be, but it does show respect for the veterans who served,” said Army veteran Norm Lemmon, who served in Vietnam.
At Shadygrove, local veterans conducted a 40-minute ceremony at the cemetery's memorial garden, known as The Mound.
In his keynote speech, Joseph Stockner, past president of the American Legion's Buckeye Boys State, recalled that as a high school principal he once handed out diplomas to five smiling seniors who, a short time later, returned home from Vietnam in body bags.
“What would those men want to share with us today?” he asked about 200 spectators.
“I think the flag. Until you realize how many have died for that flag, you don't realize what it means.”
Elsewhere in the region, spit-shined and ironed, dozens of uniform-clad veterans thumped and strutted up Lagrange Street yesterday morning when Toledo's Polish Village neighborhood turned out for its annual Memorial Day celebration.
As they've done for decades, residents lined the sidewalks to watch the parade move from Streicher Street to Mount Carmel Cemetery, where priests in flowing white performed a memorial Mass for the nation's fallen fighters.
Bob Crowe, an Air Force veteran, brought his 3-year-old son, Justin, from their Lewis Avenue home to watch.
“It's something new and different for him,” Mr. Crowe said.
Nearby, Jessie Matthews told his children, Xzavier, 10, and Jessika, 8, how to tell one service branch from the other by uniform colors and insignia.
“I look at all this tradition, and I wish I'd served,” said Mr. Matthews, a Toledo Public Schools teacher. “My uncles all served, I heard all their stories when I was a boy. We had a family tradition of military service. But with my generation, it kind-of fell away. Thank God for peace, but it would have been nice to wear that uniform.”
Silence fell as two buglers blew “Taps.” Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardsmen, and reservists puffed out their chests and crisply saluted.
Other hands bloomed with hankies. Vietnam veteran Gene Czerniaski let his tears flow.
“The lucky ones are the ones being honored today,” he said.