FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — For Maj. Gen. Randall R. Marchi, Memorial Day is a day of saying thanks to his fellow soldiers past and present.
Marchi, the deputy adjutant general of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, will serve as parade marshal for the 24th annual Annville Memorial Day parade.
The 2 1/2-hour parade kicks off at 9 a.m. May 24 at the parking lot of Hoss's restaurant and Antique Depot along Route 422.
Memorial Day was created in 1868 by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Army of the Republic, to honor fallen soldiers, Marchi said.
"It's a day to honor of all the service members," he said.
Logan selected May because he wanted gravesites of the fallen to be decorated by families and supporters of the military, Marchi said.
Marchi said he was honored to be asked to take part in this year's parade.
"That parade is just a tremendous feeling seeing the outpouring of the citizens of Annville and others who attend and participate to support the troops and honor them," said Marchi, who will be participating in his third Annville Memorial Day parade this year.
One part of the parade that impresses him the most is seeing veterans gather at the review stand and listen to the speeches after the marching bands, floats and fire trucks have passed.
During the parade, Marchi said, he looks for veterans wearing their service caps and tries to track them down after the parade has ended.
"I make it a point to shake the hands of as many veterans that I can," he said. "And I say 'Thank you for your service.'"
He said he is also impressed by the number of children, veterans their families lining the parade route.
Marchi said he realizes that people lead busy lives. They may have lost sight of the accomplishments of the country's military and what it means to serve in the military, he said.
"That's why Annville's parade is so important," Marchi said.
Marchi graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in criminology and enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard 1973.
"My father was pro military, and he had a number of friends who were in the Pennsylvania National Guard. They talked me into signing up as a private," Marchi said.
When his six-year enlistment was up, his father and "a crusty old colonel" convinced him to sign up for Officers Candidate School.
Forty years later, Marchi remains in the Pennsylvania National Guard, where he has served as a commander at every military level — battery, battalion and brigade.
Marchi said his most memorable times in the military have been his daily interaction with soldiers and the family members.
"Both have been very joyful at times and painful at times," he said.
In Pennsylvania, the Army National Guard has 15,000 soldiers and the Air National Guard has 4,500 airmen.
"We're fortunate the Guard in Pennsylvania is very robust with both the Army and Air (National Guard)," Marchi said.
He also noted there are 1 million veterans who live in Pennsylvania. Of that number, 41,000 have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001. Many of the National Guardsmen have been deployed numerous times, he said.
Pennsylvania has lost more than 280 soldiers, including 53 from the Pennsylvania National Guard, since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
"They will never be forgotten because they are heroes," Marchi said. "They made that ultimate sacrifice honorably in defense of our freedom."
Marchi said the older veterans that he meets are a humble group, but they always ask him how the soldiers in Afghanistan and their families are doing.
Becky Gacono, organizer of the parade, said her committee is reaching out to get more veterans to attend the parade.
Gacono's father and mother, Carl and Mary Jane Gancono, were instrumental in making the annual Annville Memorial Day parade into what it is today.
Her father, who served in the Pennsylvania National Guard, went to the Annville American Legion 25 years ago, and they told him he couldn't run a parade unless he was commander of the Legion, Gancono said. So, he became commander of the Legion and worked to have an annual parade, she said.
"Their goal was never to make it the biggest parade," Gacono said. "Their goal was to make sure people remember what Memorial Day is all about."