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Joel Gurley in the barn he and his son Philip built in Somerville. The Gurley family will host a Memorial Day event in the barn for veterans.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Joel Gurley in the barn he and his son Philip built in Somerville. The Gurley family will host a Memorial Day event in the barn for veterans.

Building a Memorial Day tradition
Somerville family opening doors
to new facility for veterans

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

SOMERVILLE — The Gurleys of Somerville are building a Memorial Day tradition.

Last year, Joel and Dianna Gurley pitched tents in their front yard on Six Mile Road and hosted veterans and their families for a meal and a fun time.

"It really began as an effort to honor two of my heroes, Howard Burks, who served in World War II, and I.D. Maze, who fought in Vietnam," Joel Gurley said. "We had about 300 people, including 42 World War II veterans."

Monday, the event shifts to the property of the Gurley's son, Philip, on Peck Hollow Road, and those who came last year will see a vastly different scene.

In tribute to his parents and all veterans, Philip Gurley brought in numerous members of the community to help construct a barn and pavilion, where he hopes to host an annual Memorial Day event.

Ahead of its time

"This was supposed to have been five years in the future, but veterans urged us to go ahead and build it," Dianna Gurley said. "Joel and Philip jumped to it, with assistance from a lot of people who are as interested in honoring veterans as we are. Some are calling it Gurley Park."

Joel Gurley, who served six years in the Army National Guard with the former 1343rd Engineer Company in Hartselle, said it was unbelievable the number of people who volunteered their services, which included the gathering and cutting of cedar boards, the electrical work and plumbing.

He said leading the pack were Ronald Gullion, Edgar Blankenship, Steve Burks, J.R. Johnson and J.W. Atkins.

Joel Gurley said the celebration Monday will begin at 8 a.m. with lunch at noon.

"We'll have live music, and we'll be there until the music stops or as long as anyone wants to stay. Not only veterans and their families, but anyone who would like to join us are welcome," he said.

"If we run out of food, we'll throw on some burgers and hot dogs and whatever else we can find, and see how long we can make it last."

Highlighting the event will be the appearance of Englishman Peter Turnbull.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Turnbull, an American military enthusiast who was visiting Howard Burks at his Cotaco home and drove Burks over Wednesday to see the project. "I think it's great what the Gurleys are doing."

A treasured memory

Turnbull said the day will be a treasured memory to take back to England. He will depart June 2.

He lives in Sunderland, a North Sea coastal town, about 350 miles from London.

"I'm much closer to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh."

Turnbull also said he will be thinking of all veterans and especially of Burks and his wife, Algie, who celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary June 4.

If you go

Joel and Dianna Gurley ask that people attending their Memorial Day event bring lawn chairs. For more information, phone 778-8432. The event will be at the home of their son, Philip, on Peck Hollow Road.

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