World War II veteran will lead this year’s Memorial Day parade

Ninety-one-year-old World War II Navy veteran James Turnbull will lead this year’s Wilton Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 30, as grand marshal.

A Wilton resident of 43 years, Turnbull said the Memorial Day parade is “a chance for people to show their appreciation for all of the veterans,” and he is honored that the Memorial Day committee selected him to lead this year’s event.

From 1943 until 1946, Turnbull was one of the more than 325,000 men who served with the Naval Construction Battalion (CB), known as the Seabees, during World War II.

During the war, the Seabees fought and built on six continents and more than 300 islands, according to America's Navy website, The naval construction battalion landed in the Pacific and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks, and housing.

Turnbull graduated from high school in June 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy that same month. He was assigned to the 13th Special Naval Construction Battalion.

Turnbull said he and his Naval group left from San Diego in November 1943 and were stationed in Hawaii, Marshall Islands and Guam before returning to San Diego in November 1945.

“You grow up in the Navy,” said Turnbull, who was discharged in March 1946.

“I was fortunate to be in the Seabees because I was with a lot of other sailors who were experienced in what we were doing,” he said. “I learned things that I had never been involved in before.”

Turnbull, who has marched in the parade for the last 15 to 20 years, said the spectators’ enthusiasm reminds him of when he and his fellow sailors returned to the United States in November 1945.

“We debarked in San Diego and we couldn’t believe it — there was a band and several hundred people there, and that in itself really pumps you up,” he said.

“I’ve been in the Memorial Day parade here in Wilton for several years now and it’s the same type of thing. There’s all these people of all ages — from young to the older — and it’s a great feeling of appreciation.”

Memorial Day

With a theme of “Salute our Heroes,” this year’s Memorial Day parade will begin at 10 a.m. at 21 River Road.

The parade will proceed through town, past the Veterans Memorial Green, Old Town Hall and the Wilton Congregational Church, ending up at Hillside Cemetery where veterans living and deceased will be honored with speeches, song and music.

Turnbull said there are “three very important things” about the annual parade.

“No. 1, there’s a volunteer committee that has to put everything together. No. 2, there has to be a lot of participants in a parade of this size, and that takes organization,” he said, “and No. 3, you have to have a lot of spectators, and all three of these things make for a great parade.”

Before the parade, Turnbull said he will help set up the Wilton Kiwanis Club’s 37th Annual Pancake Breakfast at Wilton Congregational Church, 70 Ridgefield Road.

The annual Memorial Day breakfast, from 8 to 10:30, costs $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.