The theme of this year’s Corvallis Memorial Day Parade is “Still Serving after 80 Years.” Four Grand Marshalls, all veterans of World War II, have been chosen to honor all the veterans who have served and sacrificed for the nation. The four Grand Marshalls to be honored at the 2018 parade include Ken Gardner, Bill Sperry, John Gurtner and Carl Swanson.
Ken Gardner is older than the Corvallis Memorial Day Parade, which was started 98 years ago. Ken is 100 years old and will turn 101 on October 4 of this year. He was born to Vern and Laura Gardner in Salem, Utah in 1917. The family moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 1952 from Idaho Falls and bought Dr. John Hall’s place.
While his dad ran the farm, Ken started a construction business doing lots of excavation with a drag line all over the region ranging from the Big Hole to St. Regis to Seeley Lake and Ovando. He worked on the road from Lost Trail Pass to the Big Hole in 1958.
Ken was inducted into the service in 1939 or 1940, serving in the 102nd Infantry. He was inducted at Fort Douglas, Utah and did his basic training at Camp Roberts in California and then spent a few weeks at Camp Chaffee, in western Arkansas. From there he went to Fort Lewis in Washington state and then to Pearl Harbor. He spent most of his time there at Battalion Headquarters and then was sent to the Scoffield Barracks. He was discharged in 1946 and returned to Corvallis.
Back at home he continued his dad’s construction business, Gardner Construction, eventually turning it over to his son Albert, who subsequently turned it over to his son Al. The company is now into its fourth generation.
Bill Sperry, 99, was born in 1919 in Clover, Idaho, a little town that no longer exists. He moved to the Bitterroot valley 1926 when he was six years old and grew up working on his dad’s sugar beet farm. He was inducted into the service in April of 1942 at Fort Lewis in Washington state. From there he went to Spokane and joined a B-17 outfit. From Spokane he was transferred to Alamogordo, New Mexico, and from there to Richmond, Virginia, where he was transferred into the 4th Fighter Squadron in the 52nd Fighter Group and went overseas, serving in England, Ireland, North Africa, Sicily, Corsica, and Italy, flying Spitfires for most of the time but P-51s towards the end of his duty.
After the service, Sperry returned home to Corvallis and married Lilian Schneider in 2004. He worked as a ditch rider for the state for 24 years. He’s got two sons, Darrel and John, and one daughter, Judy.
Carl Swanson was born on January 6, 1920 and is 98 years old. Born in Corvallis, he graduated from Corvallis High School and did a year of college in Ames, Iowa and another year at the college in Bozeman before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in April of 1941. War then broke out on December 6 of that year. He was stationed in Arizona but was hospitalized for four or five days and during that time his group was shipped overseas. Out of the hospital, Carl was assigned to work as an airplane mechanic and worked on B-29s, mostly stateside. He was finally shipped out to the Marianas Islands, but en route to his new assignment the Enola Gay dropped its nuclear bombs on Japan and the war came to a close. He said the guys all found their own way home, mostly on merchant ships.
Returning to Corvallis, Carl ran cattle on the homestead. His first wife died of leukemia and his second wife, Carma, died several years ago. His son Charlie took an interest in the orchard business. Charlie still runs the Mountain View Orchard and his other son, Jim, runs the Swanson Distributing company. He’s got four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
John Gurtner is the youngster of the group. He was born in North Carolina on August 12, 1923 and is only 95 years old. After graduating from high school and starting college he joined the Army Reserves. Then the war started and he was called up and sent to Fort Knox in 1943 where he attended Armed Forces School and was trained in using tanks. He was then sent to Fort Campbell where the 20th Armored Division was forming.
“Word was they were going to put us in tanks and send us to China to serve in the forward artillery,” he said. Instead he signed up for the Air Corps Cadet program and was sent to college. That program was closed before he graduated and he was sent to serve in the 78th Infantry Division and was about 21 years old when he went to Europe.
Once out of the service he had the option of joining the Army Reserves or the Air Corps Reserves. He chose the Air Corps. He went to work for Boeing in 1988 and moved to Bellevue, Washington. His first wife died of Alzheimers and then he met his current wife Helen and within a few years they had moved to the Bitterroot valley.
John has outgrown his old uniform but he still fits into his dad’s so that’s what he will wear to the parade.
Congratulations to these honorees who represent the “Greatest Generation” in the Bitterroot Valley.
Corvallis American Legion Post #91 and the Ladies Auxiliary will host the 98th annual Corvallis Memorial Day Parade at 10:00 a.m. Monday, May 28, 2018. This year the parade theme is “Still Serving after 80 years.” The Parade Grand Marshalls are local World War II veterans.
After the parade, at the Corvallis Cemetery at 12:00 pm Post #91 will conduct its annual memorial ceremony. Post members will name all the veterans buried at the cemetery dating back to the Mexican War (1848). After the cemetery ceremony, post members will move to the Woodside Cutoff Bridge and place a wreath in the Bitterroot River for all those who died at sea.
Events start off early on Memorial Day with the Corvallis Community Events Center (CCEC) serving breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at the Corvallis High School Lunchroom located off the Eastside highway.
After the completion of the parade there will be food booths and games in front of the Corvallis High School. This event is put on by the Corvallis High School Performing Arts. The food booths and games will be open until 1:00pm.
For 98 years the Bitterroot Valley has enjoyed this rich tradition of honoring those active duty personnel and veterans who have died. Today, we honor all of the United States of America‘s war dead — those who died that freedom might live.
World War I veterans started the Corvallis Memorial Day parade after they returned from Europe. The first parade consisted of a color guard and veterans, staging in the alley to the west of Main Street. 98 years ago the first annual Corvallis Memorial Day Parade started south down a dirt Main Street.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. The holiday was first proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan and was observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Until World War I many people in the South refused to acknowledge Decoration Day. Memorial Day is now celebrated on the last Monday in May. To pre-register online go to: http://corvallispost91.blogspot.com/
For more information call Doug Mason at 546-4244, or email email@example.com.