By Andrea Camarena

Rod Hughes first served his country in 1959 when he joined the U.S. Navy for two years.

In 1967, Hughes returned to the military when he joined the U.S. Army for 18 months in the Republic of Vietnam. In 1988, Hughes founded Tulare County's first Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter, Chapter 441. He researched and located the forgotten gravesites of veterans at both the Exeter and Farmersville cemeteries. But when the Farmersville Memorial Day Parade Committee invited Hughes to be this year's grand marshall, he declined.

"It's a great honor but, for me, there are plenty of vets to be honored," Hughes said. Hughes points out that Tulare County has 93 veteran's names on the wall.

"Memorial day is to remember everyone who served," Hughes said. He finally agreed to lead the parade but only in honor of all those who have served. He has every intention of bringing the wall with 93 vets with him on the parade route. Refusing to be driven, Hughes will walk with the color guard at the front of the parade. "I just want to be one of the guys," he said.

On Memorial Day, Hughes will have several close veterans to think of as he marches down Farmersville Boulevard. Hughes was one of four brothers who all served in Vietnam. Older brother Robert Hughes was a Korean War veteran while younger brothers Bruce and Mark served in Vietnam at the same time. It was a troubling time for mother Abline. Father Dee Hughes was also a veteran. With three sons of his own, Rod's oldest, Ronnie served in the U.S. Army, following in dad's footsteps.

All three of Hughes' sons graduated from Exeter Union High School with the support of wife, Patsy.

Over the weekend, Hughes plans to celebrate memorial day by placing crosses and flags on veteran's gravesites at the Deep Creek Cemetery in Farmersville. There are 21 sites to be honored and five veterans graves are still to be located. As for the Vietnam Veteran's of America Chapter 441, since its founding, nine of the Tulare County members have passed away due to service related illnesses. From his own Army group, five of those Hughes served with in Vietnam have passed away.

Hughes has a lot to think about each Memorial Day.

The Memorial Day Parade will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 30. The parade route will begin on Visalia Road and turn north onto Farmersville Boulevard. The California Air National Guard will provide a flyover to highlight the parade. The parade itself features more than 60 entries. Four thousand spectators are expected.

Exeter

In Exeter, American Legion Post 94 will honor war veterans in their annual Memorial Day Service at the Exeter Cemetery. At 8 a.m. on Monday, May 30, an open service will be held by the flagpole at the monument to the Unknown Soldier to commemorate those who dedicated their lives to U.S. military service.

The Exeter Union High School band will provide the music for the ceremony. Capt. Johnny Carr of Exeter will open the service with the invocation followed by the presentation of the colors. The Legion invited Exeter Mayor Charlie Norman to provide the keynote speech. The American Legion Auxiliary, led by Rose Harris, will present the wreath and the service will close with the playing of Taps.

After the service, refreshments will be provided at the Memorial Building. At noon, the fire station bell will toll 21 times in place of a 21-gun-salute.

Prior to the service, volunteers will place crosses and flags on military gravesites. Starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 28, volunteers will adorn 1,200 gravesites. The Avenue of Flags will also be assembled at the front of the cemetery along Kaweah Road. The Legion is looking for volunteers to help place flags and crosses in the cemetery. "This is a very community-sponsored event," said American Legion Commander Neil Marcotte. Interested parties are asked to meet at 6 a.m. at on May 28 at the Exeter Cemetery.

Auxiliary members will hand out poppies and accept donations for two days beginning at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 27 at Save Mart, Bank of America and Visalia Community Bank in Exeter.

Woodlake

A Memorial Day ceremony will begin at 8 a.m. on Monday at the Woodlake Cemetery. The California Air National Guard will be doing a fly over during the ceremony. George Clausen, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force 1951-1977, will speak on What Memorial Day Means To Me.

Clausen, 75, flew 100 missions over North Vietnam in 1967. One out of three pilots was either killed, captured or missing in action.

The local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will be placing white crosses and small flags on each of the graves of military men and women who gave their lives for freedom.

The Avenue of Flags will be up at the cemetery as the Woodlake High School choir sings the National Anthem. The Woodlake Police Explorers will serve as color guard. Reverend Charles Castle will give the invocation.

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