Honoring those who serve

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PROCTORVILLE — Tied with a slender dark cord, those letters tucked away on the corner of a counter have turned so brown it’s as if they had been stained with tea, so fragile just looking at them might make them crumble.

But the words inside still burn fiercely, sparking a love that lasted almost four decades, a love affair played out against the backdrop of war.

Today Dorothy Cremeans is 92, but in 1941 she was introduced via letters to a young corporal in the “bushmasters” regiment, a soldier looking for a pen pal.

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That pen pal was Robert Spence, who served almost three years in the Army before he was discharged August of 1945. Two days after he met his Dorothy, they married, a bond only broken upon Spence’s death in July 4, 1984.

The story of their wartime romance is just one of dozens of military memories that will be shared on Friday during the 911 ceremony, sponsored by the Proctorville branch of Wesbanco.

This is the second year for the bank to honor all those who have served in the military, police or fire departments in commemoration of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

About two weeks ago, the bank put out a call to those who had been in the military to share for the day a photograph of them in uniform. What the bank reaped was a treasure trove of memorabilia of soldiers past and present.

“Everything here has a story with it,” said Devinh Gibson, coordinator of the Friday event. “This has grown more than we had hoped for.”

The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. with music by the Chesapeake-based girls’ band, 4 Mile. Then Glen Earl of the Proctorville VFW Post 6878 will speak about his time in the military followed by Jim Nungesser, also of Proctorville, whose son has spent the past 20 years in the service including four tours in Iraq.

At noon will be the flag-raising ceremony followed by a free lunch catered by Hillbilly Hot Dog. Throughout the afternoon emergency vehicles from Proctorville police, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, Proctorville and Rome Township fire departments and South East Ohio Medical Emergency Services will be on display.

After the ceremony, those attending can tour the exhibits inside the bank of military uniforms, photographs and documents on loan for the day from members of the Proctorville community.

There’s the composite photograph of the Blackburn brothers, all of whom served simultaneously in World War II, lent by Doris Bowman, whose father, Willard Blackburn, was one of those soldiers. Or the music box that plays the Marine hymn that belonged to South Point native Leo Runyon, who died while on active duty at the age of 42.

Or hear the story of Odell Cremeans, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and brought back to the United States the black volcanic sand from those beaches. Sand, that on his death, Cremeans instructed to be dispensed in bottles to his wartime buddies who were still living. It was Cremeans’ sister whose letters are on display, lent by Dorothy Cremeans Spence’s daughter, Susan Dunn, who works at the Proctorville Wesbanco.

“It has been a great response from the community,” Gibson said.

The event, which will be on the bank’s parking lot, is free and open to the public.

There will be a second event marking the ninth anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday at Green High School in Franklin Furnace from 6 to 7 p.m. the Plymouth Heights Church Choir will perform.