In 1945, young private first class Tom Story was a U.S. Army combat infantryman marching through the Rome Arno campaign, walking across the Po Valley, and climbing the Apennine Mountains.
On Nov. 11, the 92-year-old retired U.S. Army sergeant major will serve as grand marshal in the third annual American Legion Veterans Day parade in Bluffton, accompanied by Beatrice, his bride of nearly 70 years.
“I was drafted in 1943 in Blountstown, Fla., on the Apalachicola River in the central time zone, 50 miles from Tallahassee and 50 miles from Panama City,” Story recalled with precision.
“I was a combat infantryman in World War II over in Italy in the final three campaigns of the war,” he said.
“Those three campaigns were enough for me. I did get R&R – rest and recreation, like a vacation. I enjoyed a visit to Venice and Nice, France,” he said.
Chuckling, Story said what he remembers most about Italy was “climbing and walking, and the beautiful signorinas.”
During World War II, Story was in the 88th Infantry Division, 351st Regiment, Company A. After the war, he was assigned to what was then Fort Myer, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., where he served on the administrative staff of the U.S. Army Band.
When he retired in 1973, he went to work for the U.S Postal Service for 10 years in Lynchburg, Va.
The Storys moved to Bluffton in 2001 and he became a member of American Legion Post 205.
Mike Miranda, who served three years with the U.S. Army in Germany, is chairman for the Legion’s parade. He said there are at least 10 groups already signed up for the parade, in addition to the Grand Marshal.
“We will have units from the Bluffton Police Department, the Bluffton Township Fire Department, Boy Scout Troop 241, a Cub Scout unit from Parris Island and veterans from The Haven,” Miranda said.
Like Veterans Day itself, the parade seeks to pay tribute to all American veterans, living or deceased, but especially giving thanks to living veterans who have or are still serving their country honorably during war or peace time.
The parade starts at 10 a.m. at Town Hall, winding through Old Town and ending at the Promenade near the Bluffton War Memorial monument, the town’s newest recognition of its fallen service members.
Initiated by native Blufftonian and local architect Ansley Manuel, the stone includes the names of those townspeople known to have died as a result of military service since World War I.
The idea sprang from Manuel’s own guilt about not “doing a little something” on Memorial Day to honor fallen soldiers. She began to place flowers on the memorial that sits beneath the flagpole in front of Bluffton’s Town Hall.
“I probably did that several years before I got to wondering about the names. I recognized a number of them as longtime Blufftonians,” she said.
The town hall memorial honored only those students who had attended the former school located in the building. Manuel began using the internet to see if there were any other war casualties not on this particular monument.
She started coming across names – two here and one there. Then she found a real gold mine of information – local residents who recalled names from when Bluffton’s population was much smaller.
“Jacob Martin gave me a few names who were missing from World War II. And he and Laura Bush gave me the Vietnam names,” Manuel said. The memorial is designed so that it will be possible, if necessary, to add more names on the reverse side.
The monument is on ground donated by District 118 Rep. Bill Herbkersman, whose family includes several veterans from the Army and Marine Corps.
“I thought it to be a great idea and one that the community – not just Bluffton – but the community at large would relate to and endear to,” said Herbkersman. “I thought the location, St. Joseph’s Park, would provide a prominent place to honor those that gave all…. It’s a community park and it seemed like the perfect place under the growing oak tree.”
For more information on participating in the parade, call Miranda at 843-304-1514 or email email@example.com. There is no entry fee.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.