SOUTH PARIS — It’s impossible to miss Gil Turner’s house. That’s not because of its unusual color, a light green, or because it has a pool in its fenced-in backyard. Rather, it’s distinguished by a tall pole on which an American flag snaps in the wind.

It’s fitting that Turner should have that flag flying high. The Buckfield native, who moved to South Paris in 1943, joined the Marines in March of 1953.

“They were still fighting in Korea when I went in,” he says of his service, adding that by the time he was done training in California, the cease-fire had been signed. He ended up there anyhow, and remained on-duty in Korea until 1955. A year later he was done with the Marines, but not really. He joined the American Legion in 1964— and hasn’t looked back since.

“A lot of the Second World War veterans were still very active then and were trying to build up membership,” Turner says. “We’re always hunting for new members. We need younger people to come in.”

Like many veterans-based organizations around the country, its members are aging and American Legion Post 72 is struggling. It’s an important organization, Turner says, because it supports the Boy Scouts, it sponsors student contents, and it helps its own.

“If there are veterans in the area who need some help we can help them,” he says. Though the post hasn’t got much money, vets can get some help with light construction projects and transportation. “I’m proud to be a legionary because of the programs the legion does—not just here but across the country.”

After 50 years of service at American Legion Post 72, Turner is being honored as the grand marshal of the South Paris Memorial Day Parade.

The parade forms at the courthouse on Western Avenue at 10 a.m. and, along with a band, begins marching to Riverside Cemetery at 10:30 a.m. Veteran Ken West will also be marching in that parade—and thinking of the generations of his family who have served in the military before and after him, and the friends who were lost along the way.

West’s grandfather, Arthur, left his home in South Paris to join the Army in World War I. His father Donald (“everybody knew him as Barney”) suited up for the Navy in the Second World War. Barney was injured there, but made it out alive.

“He said he had his head up when it should have been down,” West says.

Ken then spent 25 years in the Army Reserves as a combat medic, and was stationed in several places during the Vietnam War. In 1991, he was shipped across the world to serve in Operation Desert Storm. When his son Marc wanted to join up, he had a little advice.

“I told him, go Air Force, because the living conditions are much better and he wanted to get his education,” West says, adding that Marc followed his advice and stayed in for nine years. He, too, made it back—but not everyone did. “I had a classmate that died in Vietnam, he only spent a few days in Vietnam.”

He’ll likely be thinking of that friend, and others, when he marches alongside fellow veterans on Monday.

“I think of the freedom we have due to the fact that the men and women who were in front of me or behind me sacrificed their lives,” he says.

Turner agrees. Three metals that he received for serving in Korea hang on his home office wall. Those don’t seem as important as the folks the legion tries to help – as the folks that he tries to help.

Back in 2004, Turner was given an honorary life certificate from the American Legion, but that hasn’t stopped him from his volunteer work or from hoisting that flag in his front yard. His status as this year’s grand marshal is another reminder of all that veterans have done for this country, and continue to do.


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