Platoon brings piece of patriotism to fair
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JANESVILLE It doesn't get much more American than the Rock County 4-H Fair, a celebration of agriculture, youth and greasy food.
But the fair got a little more American on Sunday afternoon as soldiers presented the colors before the performance of the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
The platoon is based in Washington, D.C., and performs for dignitaries and citizens across the country. Fair board member Scott Davis said in an earlier interview that he proposed bringing the platoon to Rock County to bring "hope and faith" back to a hurting community.
Judging by Sunday's crowd, the platoon accomplished the mission. Families packed the grandstand during the 1 p.m. performance, one of two offered by the platoon. They stood often to honor the soldiers past and present represented by veterans and local volunteers.
More than half an hour passed before the platoon of two dozen Marines entered the grandstand. During that time, a speaker explained the symbolism behind the American flag and introduced the branches of the U.S. military. The national anthem, Taps and several popular songs about the military played over the loudspeakers.
Local people covered in bronze makeup posed as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial statues as the speaker explained what the statues honor.
Finally, it was time for the silent drill performance. An awed hush fell over the audience as the Marines noiselessly marched in, every muscle in unison.
Their crisp white pants and navy blue jackets cut sharply against the pale green grass as they effortlessly tossed and spun their bayoneted rifles. They spoke not a word during the 15-minute show.
Even the typical fair sounds—rides creaking, children shrieking—seemed muted. The only clear sounds were the staccato taps of rifles striking hands and boots hitting the ground.
As a finale, volunteers staged the famous Iwo Jima flag photo after the platoon finished.
Lance Cpl. James Torrez, Palestine, Texas, said the Marines follow a rigorous process to select platoon members. Recruits spend four months in training school, and only a select few are chosen when the training is done, he said after the performance.
He sees the platoon as just another form of service, one that connects to veterans and citizens across the country.
"We meet a lot of veterans, and it's very gratifying for them," he said.
Sue Keenen, Monroe, first saw the platoon perform in the early 1960s, when her husband was in the Marine Corps and she lived in Washington, D.C.
"I think it's fantastic that they got (the platoon) to come here," she said. "This is something you don't see all the time."
She smiled when asked if the platoon was as good as she remembered.
"Always," she said.