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Elizabeth salutes its veterans

Elizabeth salutes its veterans
Elizabeth salutes its veterans
All the veterans present at the Memorial Day service of remembrance in Elizabeth Monday were honored, as were World War II veterans Kenneth Summers, 80, on the left, and his brother, Eugene, 86, shown greeting friends after the program. (Photos by Randy West)

The town of Elizabeth kept its Memorial Day tradition alive Monday with a vigorous little siren and flag-filled parade and a public recounting of the story of three brothers who served in World War II, but this particular ‘service of remembrance’ contained a couple of surprises.
After narrator Lee Cable told the story of three brothers ‘ Otis, Kenneth and Eugene Summers ‘ the Rev. Dick Goodwin, the master of ceremonies and a Vietnam veteran, asked all the veterans in the crowd of several hundred people standing on the hillside facing Rose Hill Cemetery to ‘come on down’ to the speaker’s stand.
Army veterans, Air Force veterans, Navy veterans, Marine Corps veterans, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, reserve forces, all walked down the grassy slope to the speaker’s stand and the Color Guard standing by the little creek that winds through the immaculately tended cemetery. They turned to face the appreciative crowd. Appropriate military music for each branch of the armed forces sounded on the P.A. system as the veterans formed a long line at the end of the Color Guard.
‘Friends, did you know you had this many veterans among you? Let them know you appreciate them for their service to God and country,’ said Goodwin, the pastor at the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.
He asked that everyone recognize the living veterans, remember the MIAs and the POWs, and honor those who have died in and after armed conflict. ‘Pray for those still in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the world,’ he said. ‘Grant them the shield of grace and a spirit of fortitude.’ He also asked for lasting peace and a world without war.
Everyone sang ‘God Bless America.’
Lee Cable told the war stories of Otis, Eugene and Kenneth Summers, who were reared at Evans Landing. All graduated from Elizabeth High School.
Eugene, the middle son, was the first to be drafted into the U.S. Army on March 5, 1942. Kenneth went next, on Nov. 21 of the same year, and Otis, the oldest, who married Catherine Kelly Summers, was the last. He was with the Army Engineers and spent some time in France. Otis died a year ago, so Cable was not able to interview him.
While Eugene was in training with an amphibious unit, Army doctors found that he had a heart problem. Instead of sending him home, the Army sent him to Tennessee for military police training. He and his division wound up in the Philippines, where he stayed. His division moved out to Europe, and every one of the 1,600 men he had trained with later lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge.
Kenneth was sent to Africa and then to the front lines in Italy. The fighting was fierce at Monte Casino and Enzio, and the Allies lost many soldiers. Kenneth remembers seeing their graves stretch out for a mile.
Kenneth was sent to the south of France for D-Day. He had a habit of digging a foxhole wherever he was ‘ and one day he dug six, Cable said. It was a habit that paid off. A mortar shell landed a few feet from where he had dug in. He wasn’t killed, but he suffered a concussion which resulted in constant headaches. He was hospitalized for a month. Kenneth was reclassified and sent to Holland for warehouse work. The war ended, and he headed home, stopping over in Belgium and then Paris, where, to his surprise, he ran into two friends, Bud Leffler and Roy Brown, at the Eifle Tower.
‘What you have here, folks, are a couple of characters,’ Cable said, referring to the two elderly gentlemen sitting in front of the Color Guard. ‘Don’t you just love them? They were so lucky to make it back alive, and we’re so lucky to still have them. God bless you both.’
The American Legion veterans saluted their departed comrades with rifle volleys and the playing of ‘Taps.’ Goodwin also asked everyone to remember Bob Hope, the much-loved comedian who entertained the overseas troops in several wars. Hope is nearing his 100th birthday. ‘Thanks for the memories,’ Goodwin said.
Just as Goodwin thought the program was over, Joe Arnold, acting commander of American Legion Hornickel Post 379, took the microphone to announce that it was Goodwin’s 60th birthday. Goodwin quickly exited the speaker’s stand, obviously embarrassed. The crowd joined Susie Eastridge, who had earlier sung The National Anthem and led The Pledge of Allegiance, in singing ‘Happy Birthday.’
Paul Eve, 44, Elizabeth, played rousing music during the parade and, as a professional Elvis impersonator, gave a worthy rendition of ‘American Trilogy.’
Jeff (Artie) Lillpop and his son, Justin, 17, held a drawing and raised $1,576 for Christian Goodpaster, who is hoping for a double lung transplant.