TOWANDA - It wasn't the fourth Thursday in November, but rather the last Monday in May.

But it was still a time to give thanks.

At the Memorial Day ceremony at the Towanda American Legion Post 42 in Towanda Monday, the guest speaker, Col. Marsha Mills Davis, daughter of Silas and Esther Mills of Towanda, gave a speech laced with gratitude.

"Let me say thank you to all of you in the audience who have served your country, whether it be during war, conflict or peace," she said. "Perhaps you have not served as a service member, but perhaps you have contributed by assisting service members and their families without serving by saving labels or food rationing or working when you could have otherwise stayed at home."

"Especially we thank those who have gone before us and remember how much was given so we could enjoy this day of freedom," she continued. "This is a day to honor those Americans who died while defending our nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes everyday for the profound contribution they have made to securing our nation's freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day."

She quoted Gen. George S. Patton, noting that he said, "it would be foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."

Because of them, we celebrate freedom, she said.

And she told the audience about herself, noting she was asked to speak about her experiences in the military.

Davis said her career in the U.S. Army has been "an adventure."

"I went to college and law school and was working in Harrisburg, Pa., as an attorney for the Commonwealth before I ever joined the Army," she said. "I was looking for a part-time job and my husband recruited me into the Pennsylvania National Guard."

In 1983, she joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a Judge Advocate General (JAG), or an attorney for the Army, she said.

"I was the first female Judge Advocate General in the 28th Infantry Division," she said. "Unlike the television show 'JAG,' I have never flown a plane, steered a ship, dropped a bomb, nor have...any of the other JAG's that I know."

"Due to my having been in practice as an attorney for over three years, I was able to get a direct commission into the National Guard as a First Lieutenant," she said. "A year later, I was promoted to Captain. I served in every position in the 28th Infantry Division JAG office, except as defense counsel."

She noted that while at the Judge Advocate General School of the Army (JAGSA), war crimes was one of the subjects she taught. This is the school that trains all lawyers for the army, located in Charlottesville, Va., she said.

"This led me to the Hague in the Netherlands to interact with the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia," she said. "I was there to observe the first-ever war crimes trial in the first war crimes tribunal since Nuremburg. I also went to Rwanda, Africa to teach new Rwandan judges and attorneys how to prosecute genocide cases."

She said she stayed in the same hotel featured in the movie, "Hotel Rwanda."

"I also traveled to Tanzania, Africa, where the war crimes in Rwanda were being prosecuted at the War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda, which is still ongoing," she said. "This was a life-changing, educational experience for me." She said the information she gained was passed onto her students, and JAG's in other services, as well as national organizations.

Today, she said, she is on an Active Duty tour with the Army War College, serving a 179-day tour as a budget analyst.

"During my 27 years in the Army Reserves, I have not deployed to a combat area of operation, but I have served those who were deployed," she said. "I have assisted family members who stay behind dealing with everything to include medical issues, family issues, and job stresses.

"I have helped soldiers get their jobs back when they return from deployments, I have found medical care when insurance companies refused to help, I have prepared more wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives than I can count. I have fought off creditors trying to take homes away from soldiers' families because they are unable to pay their bills. I have presided over administrative cases. I have advised commanders on how to discipline, who has the authority to do what to whom, and when military assets can be used in disasters such as floods, ice storms, or to assist other states, such as in Louisiana, or whether we should carry weapons and when we can carry weapons in support of events such as the G-8 Summit in Pittsburgh."

"Thank you for letting me share my experiences with you," she said. "Thank you all for your service and for your dedication to the greatest country on earth."

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; e-mail: