Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 5, 2013

Veterans reflect on meaning of July 4th

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Local veterans readied to march with 600 American flags in the Junior Royale Parade through downtown Thursday — an act that likely broke a record.

Organizers realized they missed a deadline to apply to Guinness World Records, but Jack Pickard, former Grand Traverse Area Veteran Coalition president, said the significance lies in the parade falling on Independence Day.

He and others from the coalition helped the Traverse City Boom Boom Club raise money for the fireworks before the parade Thursday at the Open Space because “it’s a veterans duty to raise funds for the celebration of independence.”

Pickard, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, thought of those who sacrificed their lives for America’s freedom.

“I’m fortunate,” he said. “I don’t care if I got artificial knees or whatever. I’m here.”

The holiday also holds meaning for Beulah resident and World War II veteran Gerald Hammond, who was to be presented the French Legion of Honor Thursday. His family, including four children, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren are in town for the ceremony.

Hammond, 88, served as a private first class in the 953rd Field Artillery Battalion in the 1st Army under Gen. Omar Bradley. He participated in the invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, helped liberate the French city of St. Lo and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

The Legion of Honor is the highest decoration bestowed by the French government. Hammond said he’s glad to be recognized, but there are scores of others who deserve credit.

“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “There were thousands of GIs involved in Battle of the Bulge.”

He continued, “That was six weeks of plain hell ... The weather was horrible. You couldn’t see anything, so we couldn’t have the Air Force. When the weather got better in a few weeks, that was the turning tail.”

Hammond laughed that he and his wife, Lois, for months believed the prestigious medal was lost in the mail. He found out it’d be delivered in December, when he was out of town for the winter. They had family members check for the package, but it was nowhere to be found until April.

“It was in our garage but nobody knew it,” Hammond said. “It’s just that it was a troublesome wondering where the heck it could’ve gone because the FedEx guy said, ‘I delivered it.’”

The holiday reminds Dave Simler, of Suttons Bay, of 20 years spent in the Air Force. In 1968, a celebration abroad made Fourth of July more than “just another day off.”

“While I was in Germany the military wives pulled their money together for fireworks that I helped set off,” Simler said.

Grand Rapids resident Ruth Crame also has fond memories of the Fourth overseas. She lived in India, Ecuador and Thailand when her father worked for the U.S. Embassy. It was a party when the American community joined for food, fireworks and games.

“It was just a time to celebrate the U.S. and being American. To me, it’s always been a big deal,” Crame said. “It was very neat. Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite days and I think it’s because of the way we learned about it.”