TURNER, Maine — A lone bugler’s somber notes rang out softly beyond the quiet river bluff overlooking the Nezinscot River in Turner. A crowd of several hundred sat in silent remembrance of one of their own who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country during the Vietnam War.
And while the day may have been more than 43 years in the making, Phillip S. Bryant finally received the hero’s welcome he rightfully deserved.
The 21-year-old Turner man’s death in the Quang Tri Province in 1968 was met with the same lack of fanfare not uncommon for those who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.
No headlines about a hometown hero. No large memorial service in his honor. No more than a large, ominous black sedan that pulled up in front of his parents’ home on Route 117 that fateful May day bearing the news that would forever change the lives of his loved ones.
“The family was never really honored for their sacrifice,” Lori Richardson, a member of the Turner American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, said. “It was the times. The black car drove up, told the family of the death, brought home the body, and he was buried.”
Richardson was one of dozens of members of both the ladies auxiliary and the Turner Sons of the American Legion determined to honor the town’s sole death during the more than decade-long war.
Bryant, a Navy medic assigned to a Marine division in one of the most dangerous regions in Vietnam, died on the other side of the world on May 29, 1968. After surviving the famous 77-day battle of Khe Sanh, the young Maine man died while clearing a landmine from a road in Quang Tri Provice in South Vietnam.
“It sends the message that the town of Turner will never forget. No sacrifice will ever be forgotten,” Cmdr. Mike Chavez of the Turner Sons of the American Legion said.
Chavez said he was impressed by the large crowd that had gathered to participate in the procession from the town hall to the small park overlooking the river just off Main Street Bridge. The ceremony coincided with the town’s 225th anniversary.
The Legion anticipated about 200 people showing up. Instead the crowd was closer to 400 and included family members, youth and civic groups, and local, state and national government representatives, and other residents.
“You have to get together to appreciate those people who died for us in world wars,” said Maj. John Norman, a 90-year-old veteran of three international wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “I was in charge of many units and had to write many letters to many families whose loved ones died. And we’re here today because of those soldiers and their sacrifices.”
A procession of more than 200 people walked from the town office on Route 117 to a bluff overlooking the Nezinscot River, where hundreds more had gathered on lawns surrounding the small park. A stone honoring Bryant was unveiled by the American Legion with the help of Bryant’s brothers, Marshall and Dale.
Along with his brothers were more than 40 members of Bryant’s family. His sister, Judith, died of cancer several years ago. His mother, Wilma, died in 2009. And his father, Sherwood, died last month.
Dale Bryant said during his remarks to the crowd that their father knew of the monument and would surely have been proud.
“I’d like to thank everyone on behalf of our family,” Dale Bryant said Sunday. “This park will always be special to us. My father knew about this dedication and about this monument.”
The town honored Phillip last year, when it dedicated the riverside bluff near the corner of Main Street and Schoolhouse Hill Road in his name. In addition to a brief description of Phillip Bryant, the monument includes the one inscription his brother Marshall had in mind to honor him: “Never to be forgotten.”
The two Legion groups — the sons and the auxiliary — raised the money to buy the monument. Collette Monuments helped with an in-kind donation of its work.
“We’re marching to remember my great-uncle, Phillip Bryant,” said Dale Bryant’s grandson, 9-year-old Ethan Varney, who marched with fellow members of Cub Scout Pack 187 from Turner. “I really think I should support him. He gave his life for us. In fact, I think we should always remember all of them — even the ones who didn’t give their lives — because they went into war.”