ROBERTS — Many of the veterans marching down Main Street here Monday had not seen combat for the better part of a century. But, the leader of the parade, Cpl. Jeremy Adams, had only about a week between himself and a war zone.
Marching a few steps behind Adams was his grandpa, Ernie DeVries. The World War II veteran's wrinkled face beamed even brighter than the fresh medals on his grandson's uniform.
"I'm dang proud of him," DeVries said posing with Adams for photographs moments before the parade.
Monday was the 58th Memorial Day Parade march for DeVries, a retired rancher who served as a gunner aboard B-24 bombers over Europe during World War II. It was the first parade for the 23-year-old Adams.
Adams said he has always wanted to march with his grandfather. The first Memorial Day after he became a Marine in 2001, he had to attend additional training. His second Memorial Day as a Marine — last year — he was serving overseas in Okinawa.
When he was shipped to Iraq in January, Adams thought he would have to wait yet another year to march beside his grandpa. But the military works in mysterious ways. A little over a week ago, Adams and the rest of his artillery unit were flown home from Iraq.
Adams was able to leave his Marine base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and return for a weekend visit with family in Montana and Wyoming. He was accompanied by his wife, Paula.
The two were catching a flight back to California Monday night. Adams is scheduled to report back to duty at 8 a.m. today.
The visit was short, but it was long enough for a Memorial Day picnic and parade.
"It just worked out perfect," said Adams, a 1997 high school graduate from Powell, Wyo.
Sixteen veterans, including Adams, lined up to march down the Main Street of Roberts Monday. Before the parade, the old vets shook Adams' hand and wanted to hear stories from the latest war.
Adams, who directed 155-mm Howitzer fire during the war, talked about seeing camels, sandstorms and smiling, waving Iraqi civilians. "They were sure tickled to see us," he said.
Most of the war stories have already been told by the non-stop media coverage, Adams joked. A Fox News reporter was embedded with a nearby unit.
"I was able to keep up with him all the way to Baghdad," DeVries said.
People along the parade route said they were surprised to see a Marine home so soon after the war. Many had memories of husbands and brothers lingering in Europe for months after World War II and being sent home aboard slow-cruising troop ships. Adams was flown home quickly, he said, because he is scheduled for another overseas deployment in February.
The parade ended at a cemetery on an emerald green hill above Roberts. There were no speeches from politicians, or their designated letter-reading proxies. There was just the sound of meadowlarks, the singing of God Bless America and a few words from Jim Ransdell, a Marine Corps veteran from Red Lodge.
"Fighting and dying has always been the work of the young," Ransdell told the crowd of about 75 local residents. "The war in Iraq is over and young Americans have again won it. These young men and women warriors … have now joined the ranks and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the veterans of Iwo Jima, Normandy, Anzio, Korea, Vietnam and Kuwait."