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‘A time to remember’ veterans

  • U.S. Navy Capt. Howard Gunther (ret.) served as the Grand Marshal of Ellijay’s Veterans Parade Monday. He is a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Gunther spoke briefly and said he was "excited" to see such a grand turnout for Veterans Day in the community. (Photo by Whitney Crouch)
by Mark Millican

Mike Pilvinsky was drafted into the Army in 1967 at age 20 and served a year in Vietnam as an infantry platoon commander. He retired in 1991, but then taught Junior ROTC in high school for 19 years.

Altogether, he’s worn the uniform for 45 years.

Although his unit in ’Nam was shot at and later became involved in the invasion of Cambodia, he said his toughest day in the service as an Airborne Ranger was on the home front.

“It was probably the day I had to leave my wife and family and head for Vietnam,” he said of shipping out, explaining his first wife died 13  years later.

Pilvinsky was one of dozens upon dozens of veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard who took part in a plethora of events over the Veterans Day long weekend, from a Rotary Club dinner to a Lions Club breakfast and program on the downtown square to school functions and recognitions at Gilmer Nursing Home.

“It was magnificent,” he said of the dinner, breakfast and Veterans Day program on the square. “I’ve been retired from active duty since 1991 and I’ve never gone to one of these veterans’ things, and I was just so impressed and pleased and touched. I’m bringing my wife next year, I’m definitely going to do it again.”

On the holiday Monday, schoolchildren joined hundreds of people on the downtown square under a cloudless sky and perfect fall weather. “U-S-A! U-S-A!,” the students chanted while waving small American flags, long before the parade got underway.

The festive spirit was colored by red, white and blue decorations and interspersed with vets in their old uniforms or sporting camouflage with military ball caps.

Choruses sang, a marching band played and teens in youth military units all collaborated with veterans’ groups to give the observance a true holiday atmosphere.

Ga. House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) noted it was “a time to remember those who have served our nation unselfishly and with courage ... some who gave the last full measure.”

Ralston said through the decades more than 2,700 Gilmer Countians have answered the call to serve in the military, and that is a life “not without hardship” to them and their families.

Navy Commander Howard Gunther (ret.) served as grand marshal in the parade and also read from a poem called “The Soldier” — but he said it applied to sailors, airmen and Marines as well:

“It’s the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us Freedom of the Press; 
“It’s the soldier, not the poet, who has given us Freedom of Speech; 
“It’s the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the Freedom to Demonstrate. 
“It’s the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the Right to a Fair Trial; 
“It’s the soldier who salutes the flag, serves under the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives the protestor the right to burn the flag.”

Spectator Sharon Bailey said she came to the observance to show her appreciation to  veterans.
“My brother, Bill Drake, is here, and Bobby Lynch too,” she said of fellow church members. “They both served this country and I just wanted to honor them.”

Howard Howland sat on a downtown bench and said he just moved to the area, and became intrigued when he saw his family name, McArthur, on some of the white crosses set up on the west side of the square to memorialize local veterans.

“I want to honor all of them,” he said of veterans. “But when I recognized my family’s name on some of the crosses, I wondered what war they were killed in, and I thought it was cool that some of my folks were responsible for our freedom.”
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