PARIS — It’s impossible to miss Gil Turner’s house. That’s not because of its unusual light-green color 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 1953.

“They were still fighting in Korea when I went in,” he said of his service, adding that by the time he was done training in California, the cease-fire had been signed. He ended up there anyway, and remained on duty in Korea until 1955.

A year later, Turner was done with the Marines.

In 1964, he joined the American Legion 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 said. “We’re always hunting for new members. We need younger people to come in.”

Like many veteran-based organizations around the country, Foster-Carroll American Legion Post 72 is struggling because its members are aging. It’s an important organization, Turner said, because it supports the Boy Scouts and student contests, and it also helps its own.

“If there are veterans in the area who need some help, we can help them,” he said. Though the post doesn’t have 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,” he said.

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

The parade forms at the Oxford County 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 of South Paris will also march in the 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. That was not to be the end of his military service. During World War II he served in the Navy.

Ken West’s father, Donald, known as “Barney,” suited up for the Army during World War II and was injured.

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

Ken West spent 25 years in the Army Reserve 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 coalition forces, led by the United States, responded to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.

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 said. Marc followed his advice and stayed in for nine years.

Not everyone survived their military service.

“I had a classmate that died in Vietnam, he only spent a few days in Vietnam,” West said. 

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

Turner agreed.

Three medals Turner 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 and the people he tries to help.

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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