Military veterans, past and present, recognized for service

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

— World War II re-enactors Phillip and Merilyn Mitchell love Memorial Day parades for their purism.

A Memorial Day parade sticks to the point, which is to celebrate and honor the men and women in the American military who have died while in service.

The loudest thing in a Memorial Day parade—at least the Memorial Day parade Monday in downtown Janesville—was not a fire-truck siren but instead the romping din of "The Army Goes Rolling Along" being played by the bright-green-and-gold-clad marching band of Janesville Parker High School.

Most floats were silent, including a live re-creation by local young men and women of the flag-hoisting Marines depicted in the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The currency of the day was the bullet casings that flew from the chambers of military rifles. The décor: American flags that flew on the street sides and all along the line of parade marchers.

Almost all of the parade attire was military—most of it dress-military.

"Today's parade is different than a Labor Day or local festival parade," said Phillip Mitchell, a former member of the U.S. Air Force.

"At Labor Day, you've got clowns and politicians running around. But Memorial Day, it's serious, and it means something. You sure didn't see any clowns or politicians in this parade today," Mitchell said.

Phillip and Merilyn Mitchell have reverence for those who have fought and died in war—but also a fascination with World War II re-enactments. Phillip always goes dressed as his uncle, Col. George "LeRoy" Robinson.

Robinson was a B-17 pilot and from June 1943 to September 1944 was commander of Thurleigh Airfield outside of Bedford, England, a town 50 miles north of London.

Merilyn, who is English and is actually from Bedford, dresses for re-enactments often as a Red Cross nurse.

Though the couple normally attend actual war re-enactments, they have started to do parades. Merilyn said she got inspired to go in military dress to Janesville's parade Monday after reading a newspaper article in The Gazette.

The story was about a man who planned to wear military attire and enter a restored green U.S. Army MIA bicycle in Janesville's parade to honor a relative who disappeared in World War II.

Merilyn said she called parade coordinators and begged for a chance for Phillip and her to enter in their World War II attire. The two Monday also had a 1942 Chevrolet Special Deluxe with a banner of a fiery-eyed, pointing Uncle Sam.

Merilyn said her big hope in going in the parade Monday was to spark patriotic reaction in everyone who attended.

"Being in the parade, you see these people's reactions to some of the floats. They are really moving. You can see the people clap, and it makes you feel that they do get it—they do understand and appreciate the sacrifice of people that died in the (military) service," she said.

She most hoped that message reached young people.

"Do these young kids appreciate all those sacrifices? When you're young, you might take these freedoms for granted. You hope, at least I do, that they learn at a young age where their freedoms came from," she said.

The spirit of the day was catching in Monday's parade. As Merilyn had hoped, it did reach some local youths.

Along with the Iwo Jima Memorial float, there was a float with a Vietnam War scene in frozen silence, as a crew of soldiers tended to a mortally wounded man.

Sam Gulotta, 16, was one of a half-dozen Parker High students clad in Korean War-era olive drabs, Beetle Bailey helmets and rain ponchos. The students, who had volunteered to march with rifles and combat gear, were helping out the Vietnam Veterans of America.

They were in the parade behind the Parker High marching band.

"The veterans groups come to the school all the time, and they asked for volunteers to march. I thought it'd be cool to do my part, to help out," Gulotta said.

Last updated: 10:31 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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