While tangible remnants of World War II become ever scarcer, Linda Minichiello, director of the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, vows that “The people who trained here will not be forgotten.”
Minichiello, whose mission is to keep alive the memory of those who served in the Army’s largest amphibious landing training facility during the war, said she believes Camp Gordon Johnston Days will continue even when the last veteran who trained here is gone.
She hopes that, even as the last veterans grow too infirm to make the trip to Carrabelle, others will come forward to honor their memory and she appears to be right.
Although Saturday’s parade was a more abbreviated than in the past, and some planned attractions failed to appear, a strong turnout took in the parade, with veterans of more recent wars both marching and waving from the sidelines. Camp Gordon Johnston Museum President Tony Minichiello said he felt this year’s celebration was a success.
Carrabelle sponsored the Silver Wings Band from Fort Rucker, Ala. There was a scattering of county constitutional officers and elected officials. The Shriners were there. The pageant included Nazi reenactors, Sons of the Confederacy and a scale model of the battleship Wisconsin.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion Post 82 and the Marine Corps League of Tallahassee all turned out in force. The Lone Star Quilters looked toasty in a float covered with red, white and blue coverlets. Carrabelle Beach RV Resort made a strong showing. Military vehicles, classic cars and horses added to the spectacle and, once again, the Warrior’s Watch honor guard bikers from Panama City stood at attention along the parade’s final block.
This year, eight World War II veterans, all designated as grand marshals, were able to make the trip to Camp Gordon Johnston Days.
The oldest, Glenn Jeffries, 99, of Knoxville, Tenn. was attending his first camp reunion. He was one of the four surviving alumni of the camp who attended.
Carrabelle Mayor Curley Messer is another; he drove with Grand Marshall Don MacLean, himself a veteran and a volunteer and contributor to the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum.
World War II veterans Mary Britz, Ken Tucker, Jim Moore, Buddy Scala, Bob Dietz and Arthur Minichiello were also honored.
Britz of Lanark Village said her memories of military service a lifetime ago are still fresh. She served as an Army nurse caring for soldiers recently returned from the Pacific theatre.
Sitting in the bright sunshine along the parade route she said, “I just can’t get by it. When somebody dies in your arms and you make them all these promises you never keep, you can’t forget it. I still can’t talk about it.”
Everyone acknowledges there will be changes in the reunion’s agenda in years to come.
The city did not provide a free luncheon this year although a benefit fish fry at the city’s pavilion, for medical expenses for Merissa Beasley, provided plenty of tasty eats.
Tony Minichiello said this will be the last year for the Saturday evening dinner dance due to reduced attendance.
“The kinds of things in the parade may change,” said Linda Minichiello. “It’s already been changing. It’s getting harder to get people to bring vintage equipment to Carrabelle for 45-minutes, but Camp Gordon Johnston will be remembered.”
Because she spends as much time thinking about the county’s past as its future, her perspective is a little different.
“People come to the museum and ask me, ‘Where was the camp?” and I tell them it was the whole county,” she said. “Because it was a camp and not a fort, it existed just for the duration of the war, but Camp Gordon Johnston will not go the way of other installations across the state. The camp itself and the people who trained there will not be forgotten, whether they’re there or they are not there.
“Because of the museum, people will remember there was a military installation during the war that covered almost the whole county. The whole county paid a significant part in the outcome of World War II, she said.
To view a gallery of photographs of this year’s Camp Gordon Johnston Day celebration taken by Lois Swoboda, Bill Owen and David Adlerstein, visit www.apalachtimes.com