READFIELD — At the Readfield Veterans Day recognition service Saturday, Cliff West proudly wore his U.S. Marine Corps winter service uniform of green wool over a khaki shirt and tie with the eagle designating the rank of colonel.

It was the 243rd birthday for the Marine Corps as well.

West, 98, of Winthrop, had added a red baseball cap, one marking his status as one of the survivors in the World War II battle for Peleliu island, which resulted in heavy losses for the 1st Marine Division, in which he was a forward air controller calling in airstrikes. The division landed on the Pacific island on Sept. 14, 1944. The attack was intended to support Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.

The heavy casualties, he said, were “due to the type of combat and weather and some problems with contamination of the water supply.”

He did not exaggerate. According to a story on the official website of the Marine Corps, the division suffered casualties of about 1,300 killed in action and 5,450 wounded. A story from The Marine Corps Association reported the temperature as 105 degrees Fahrenheit on D-day and soaring to 115 in the coming days, with the bright sun “reflecting off the white sand and coral.”

When badly needed water arrived on day 2, many Marines drank it before realizing it was tainted by oil, the story said.

The 11,000 Japanese troops had dug in for a long defensive battle.

He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa as well, “and after that it was all administrative work.” Saturday was the first time he had attended a Veterans Day ceremony in Readfield. Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, marks the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Sunday is the 100th anniversary of that armistice.

In the parking lot outside Gile Hall, home of the Readfield Town Office, West sat in a 1968 Kaiser Jeep driven by Doug Gorden, of Mount Vernon.

“Doug and I have known each other for years,” he said.

For the past 19 years, West has made the trek to Bangor to participate in a Veterans Day ceremony there — and has a cane bearing stickers to prove it. This year, however, he declined when Gorden offered to drive him there. “That’s a long haul,” West said.

Instead, West was content to watch, listen and answer questions from members of the public who walked over to greet West and shake his hand.

He said he was pleased to see so many people turn out for the ceremony.

“Too many people are forgetting the sacrifices that were made to make the conditions now possible,” he said. West said he’s particularly appreciative “to have this many years of freedom and the luxury of the life we have. The generations coming along now aren’t being taught about the sacrifices others made.”

“I didn’t sacrifice,” he emphasized. “Others did.”

West, who enlisted in March 1942 and retired as a colonel in July 1968, then clambered out of the tall truck and stood in the light rain as a dozen members Civil War re-enactors from Company A, 3rd Maine Regiment Volunteer Infantry fired a volley and then sounded taps on a bugle.

The group is a “nonprofit educational and living history organization dedicated to preserving the memory of Maine’s role in the American Civil War,” according to its website at www.thirdmaine.org.

After his military service, West joined the newly founded University of Maine at Augusta. But he and the institution parted ways in July 1984 when he was director of administrative services. “I was fired,” West said, matter-of-factly. “It was a misunderstanding with the (university) president and I.”

From there, West went on to become volunteer executive director at the then-Maine State Arboretum. Today it is the Viles Arboretum, and he is a life member.

He then spent eight years as associate area director for AARP.

The uniform, with a jacket that flares over the hips, fits him well. “I keep active every day working around the yard,” he said. West still carries his driver’s license but said he no longer drives.

After a flag-raising by members of Cub Scout Pack 622 and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Girl Scout Troop 1701 members Kate and Megan Parker and Josie Flannery, Readfield Selectboard Chairman Bruce Bourgoin read aloud the John McCrae memorial poem “In Flanders Fields.”

The participants and members of the public gathered around a monument on a triangle of land between Giles Road and Route 17 which says, “In recognition of all the men and women of Readfield who gave of themselves unselfishly in service of our country and community.”

The monument also says, “Erected by the citizens of Readfield to honor all veterans.”

Two vehicles from the Readfield Fire Department blocked off a short section of Old Kents Hill Road for the ceremony.

Once it ended, most of the Civil War re-enactors climbed into the jeep’s truck bed, and Grover drove off with West riding shotgun for a warm soup and bread luncheon at Readfield United Methodist Church.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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