Annual Memorial Day Parade honors veterans in Bolivar, Harpers Ferry
HARPERS FERRY — The annual Memorial Day parade and ceremony continued in Bolivar and Harpers Ferry on Monday. The members of the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry District Veterans once again hosted the event, honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Per tradition, the parade was led by members of the Jefferson High School JROTC and the marching Tigers from Harpers Ferry Middle School. Also joining in the lineup were Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty, the Federation of North American Explorers, Bolivar Mayor Helen Detmer, Friendship Fire Company and the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry District Veterans.
Veteran Commander Bob Hankins welcomed all to the event and introduced Detmer, who was joined by Harpers Ferry Mayor Wayne Bishop to lay the wreath. “Taps” was played by a member of the Harpers Ferry Middle School band.
Guest speaker for the event was World War II and Korean War Veteran Ernest Wright, who was introduced as a member of the greatest generation, who had fought to win World War II.
According to Wright, he joined the United States Navy at age 15. Before sharing some of his military experiences, he told why and how he became a sailor at such a young age.
Wright quoted the Bible, saying “Honor they father and thy mother,” before saying that his mother had passed away when he was just three years old.
“My father was the greatest father and mother possible,” Wright said. “My father drilled into us to get an education. He also told us that no matter what you do, it can be done better.”
One day in high school, Wright walked out of his classroom when his teacher accused him of talking during an exam.
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “I walked out. But I didn’t know how to tell my father, so I decided to join the Navy.”
According to Wright, his father was not initially willing to sign for him to join; however, when he pushed the issue, saying he would change his name and get someone else to sign for him, his father agreed to sign for him and Wright was free to enlist.
Wright shared stories of how he got on the train in Nashville, Tennessee, headed for Norfolk. When he arrived, he was given “more clothes than I ever had in my life.” But just as quickly as those clothes came, Wright said, they were stolen by other enlistees who tricked Wright and some other new recruits into leaving their gear unattended. Wright drew laughter from the crowd, as he recounted how his commanding officer told him he would either have to buy new or get new the same way those who took his clothes did.
Wright served on several ships during his early naval career, including the USS Sandlewood, the USS Hannibal and the USS Indianapolis. While serving, he always found extra jobs to do to earn money, so he didn’t have to draw down his military pay. Some of those jobs included working in the canteen making egg salad and in the laundry.
“I thought the Navy was fantastic,” he said. “Then I got introduced to the war.”
His experiences led him to the Pacific Islands, including Saipan, Guam and the Philippines, and on to Iwo Jima.
“I remember it was June 19 that I was introduced to suicide bombers. They were diving trying to crash into the ship,” Wright said. “At Iwo Jima we lost so many men. There were times we saw bodies floating in the water and people trying to grab the dog tags. We couldn’t get in close because, you know, our ship was large.
“On Easter Sunday in 1945 we invaded Okinawa,” Wright said. “I later found out that 200,000 people died in that invasion.
“I know we have to be ready to defend our country at all times,” Wright concluded, “but if we were more aware of what war does, maybe we’d do better.”
“But, I guess it’s been that way from the beginning,” he said.