Helen Griffith, a 90-year-old Army veteran, has watched Centerville’s veterans’ parade, but had never walked or ridden in it.

Thus, she was very surprised to be named a grand marshal, along with Air Force veterans Erica and William White.

Contributions of the area’s many veterans were celebrated during Saturday’s parade on Armed Forces Day.   

Helen Griffith

Inspired by family legacy and friendship, Griffith joined the Army with a girlfriend in January 1954. 

Griffith’s father was a sergeant in the F Troop 16th Cavalry in World War I, and one brother was a sergeant in World War II — a Signal Corps radio operator in the Philippines. 

“My mother was happy when I was promoted to sergeant because she could say she had three sergeants in the family,” Griffith said. 

Griffith also had a brother in the Coast Guard and uncles in the Navy. 

She rejected a suggestion to join the Navy because she couldn’t swim. She decided the Army was the easiest way to serve her country.  

She already had three years of experience as a telephone operator for Michigan Bell, starting while in high school. Because of that experience, Griffith was sent directly to Fort Ritchie in Maryland after basic training. She said it was a beautiful area near the Appalachian Trail and was sad to see the base close in the 1990s.

Although Griffith said she couldn’t give details about what she did for the military or what she witnessed, she said it was a very interesting experience and she wishes she would have appreciated it more at the time. Griffith recalls working at multiple locations and visiting the Pentagon once.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Griffith said. “I loved what I was doing. I had good friends and did interesting things.” 

During her service, she met her future husband, Ralph, who also was in the Army, and they began planning for their future. She was discharged in February 1956, and they were married that September. 

After Ralph’s college days, the couple moved to Wisconsin, then to Hagerstown, Indiana. He then transferred to Cincinnati with Dana Corp. Later, the Griffiths transferred back to Wayne County, but this time they moved to Centerville. Their next transfer was to Toledo and then they came back to Centerville for good.

During those years, Helen gave birth to Kate, Jim and John. John lives in Centerville, while Kate is in Ohio and Jim is in North Carolina. Jim met his wife while stationed at Heidelberg, Germany, when both were in the Army. 

William White, Erica White and Helen Griffith received certificates and quilts as gifts for serving as grand marshals for Centerville’s veterans parade. Supplied by Jim Resh

Erica and William White 

Centerville Senior High School graduate William White and his wife, Erica, met through their service in the Air Force. 

William grew up in several locations because of his father’s Army service and has family now in Centerville.   

After their military retirement, the couple chose Wayne County for their next chapter. 

In 2020, they bought a farm in Economy, where they can spend time with their blended family of five children that’s now growing to include grandchildren.

William said they’re humbled and honored to be chosen as the parade’s grand marshals and never thought they’d be considered, especially at a young age. Many veterans are more deserving, he said.

Erica also wondered why they were chosen, but said she appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed waving along the parade route. 

“Every veteran feels it’s their call of duty and they didn’t do anything special, they just did what they had to do and kept moving forward,” she said.  

However, they’ve already begun making their mark as local volunteers because they oversee the Christmas in Centerville event. Erica, who has a city background, said she’s loved getting involved in Wayne County and the small-town feel of everyone knowing each other.           

Erica’s military career focused on public health, with two separate tours assigned to the base Honor Guard where she rendered military honors. Her career began at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia in 1999. Her next bases were Eielson in Alaska and Shaw in South Carolina before retiring at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado in 2019. She had deployments to the Philippines, Djibouti and Kenya. 

Erica felt a growing call to mortuary care, and she eventually had the opportunity to volunteer, intern and work in that field before they left Colorado.

“God has a plan for everyone,” she said.

After getting acclimated to their new home, she found a role as general manager of a funeral home and two cemeteries in Muncie and Portage, Indiana. 

William also is now working in a field related to his time as an aerospace ground equipment craftsman. He’s operating Red’s Auto Repair in Centerville, which the couple opened in December 2023. 

He was a mechanic for his first 14 years in the Air Force and spent the last six in Air Force Space Command.

William’s military career began at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas in 2000 and transitioned to England, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. During that time, he was deployed to Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and locations in Africa.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 22 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.