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Veterans’ Tales by Vassar Bushmills

The return of the remains of 50 soldiers’ remains from North Korea put me in mind of my first encounter parades for military heroes. It was a parade in my town for a returning POW from Korea. His name was John Gallagher.

And I was 9.

I knew about the Korean War then, had two uncles who’d served, and came home alive…my mother was always praying them home. So that was the sort of thing a kid would know. But I didn’t really know the war was over.

It my first year of Little League, which is why I know I was 9, mid summer ’54. My Little League coach sent one of his sons around to the houses of his players, (not everyone had phones) telling us to meet up in front of the Big Store (the mining company’s store) wearing our baseball uniforms on Saturday. We were going to march in a parade, so don’t bring a glove.

His name was John Gallagher, from way up Machine Shop Hollow, had a bunch of brothers, sisters and uncles, spread out the entire length of Looney Creek, stretching all the way to where the creek flushed into the Poor Fork of the Cumberland in the next town down the line. I think they had a teenager my sister’s age and one of their kinfolk owned a gas station and garage in the next town. That gas station owner, Dennis and his wife were well-known since that was where everyone with a Packard or Harley took them to be worked on. We passed by it every time we’d go to the A & P, and every time we passed it, Mom would look over and say “Heathen” under her breath, sort of the way Catholics cross themselves when they see something satanic. You see, Dennis Gallagher’s wife, Martha, was notorious for her foul tongue.  My dad said she could make a mule-skinner blush, which was really some undertaking, I Iater came to learn.

At the Big Store there was the high school band lined up, with their majorettes, followed by a small contingent of veterans from the VFW, in their uniforms…the War had only been over 9 years, then our four Little League teams, and bringing up the rear was a DeSoto or Dodge convertible with four little girls in church dresses walking in front, and John sitting on top of the back seat[…]

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