SHIRLEY — Parade Grand Marshal Marcel Gionet will serve alongside Honorary Parade Marshal William “Will” Watkins in this year’s Memorial Day parade.
Both men are committed members of American Legion Post 183.
”I’m honored, of course,” said Gionet.
With a modest demeanor, Gionet said he could think of many men more deserving according to their service records.
He has accomplished a great deal while serving the legion and the United States, said Post Commander Edward Orr.
For instance, the bell that can be seen outside the War Memorial Building was not always there.
”I had no idea the thing existed,” Gionet said. But once he found out, he began researching it.
In the 1920’s, Massachusetts Correctional Institution was given the bell, Gionet said. About 15 years ago, Gionet organized the procurement of the bell with the owners.
David Holden, owner of George Frost Co., in Shirley, donated the materials for the foundation, according to Gionet.
Holden’s son did the construction work, and the Department of Public Works helped move the bell to its new location, he said.
In addition, Gionet did research inspired by a photograph of many of Shirley’s veterans in front of the Whitely Park Memorial. Sgt. William Jubb, the subject of Gionet’s work, was the last surviving Civil War veteran until he passed away on April 20, 1934, about one year after the photograph was taken.
For this year’s services, Orr said members felt it was also important to acknowledge the service of a younger generation of veterans, the reason the group selected an honorary parade marshal.
”In the past, we in Shirley usually honored someone who not only served his or her country, (but) also spent years and years of serving Shirley and the surrounding area,” Orr said. “However, we have a fantastic bunch of local young veterans who are unsung heroes, and it is important for us to acknowledge their contributions.”
”I’m honored to do it,” Watkins said.
Watkins, a Leominster resident, said he became a member of the post because he wants to give back to the veterans that have been serving on the Legion in Shirley for many years.
”Half of the guys here,” he said, “I just hoped that I could be in their stature in both the Legion and the military.”
”I’ll always be a member,” Watkins said, “for what they have done before us.”
In 2005, Watkins said he served with the National Guard in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
”It’s something you never see in America,” he said.
We tend to take things for granted, said Watkins. The victims lost everything, and many of them did not have the means to get it back.
”All their memories were kind of washed away,” he said.
Recently married at the time, Watkins said he made it home from his duty the day before he was scheduled to travel to Hawaii for his honeymoon.
”Those of us older Legionnaires are very proud of our younger comrades,” said Orr.