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#039;Strength and Honor#039; focus of 137th parade

Four-year-old Albert Thibodaux, Jr., stood along Center Street with his mom Thursday in his own little desert camouflage uniform, waiting to watch Daddy troop by.

He did not have long to wait to see Dad, wearing a matching outfit. Along with a couple dozen of his buddies, Albert Sr., a member of the Ohio Army National Guard 216th Engineering Battalion, lead the procession in the 137th annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.

Thibodaux, Sr., said the selection of the 216th as honorary grand marshals was humbling.

"Just to know they (the community) backed you up, was behind you 100 percent, it feels great," he said.

In a break with tradition, the honorary grand marshal honor went to not one but a whole group of people who marched at the head of the parade wearing the gear they wore in Iraq.

As they made their way down the parade route, area residents applauded their return home and their place in the parade.

The crowd

An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people lined the parade route to watch the procession pass, many of whom said they come every year - rain or shine. This parade is not to be missed.

"I've been coming ever since I was a kid," Leah Osborne of Ironton said. "My mom and dad used to bring me. It's grown a lot since then."

When she was younger, Osborne marched in the parade herself, carried banners and flags and represented different school groups. Now she watches on the sidelines with family and friends.

"I enjoy the bands, the veterans, the floats," she said. "Just everything about it."

The winners are…

The first time was a charm for the Ironton Am Vets Post 5293, who took home the Best Theme award. This was the first year the Am Vets had entered a float in the parade. The last couple of years, members rode in a pick-up truck. A casket, draped in an American Flag was the centerpiece of the float. At the head of the casket was a soldier's gun standing upright, a soldier's helmet mounted on its stock. Am Vets members sat on folding chairs at the end of the casket as if they were paying their respects.

Liebert, a perennial award recipient, won the

Parade Commander award this year. At one end of their float, a soldier stood at attention at a replica of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; at the other end, the Statue of Liberty held her torch high.

"We try to do something different every year," said Liebert associate Billy Bradshaw, a member of the company's parade committee. Fellow associate Roberta Winters said the float was a collective effort.

"The people in Sheet Metal and Welding (departments) made my crown, Prefab and Coolfab made my torch and Browse a Bit made the flame."

First Baptist Church of Ironton won the Grand Marshal's award with its giant Bible flanked by U.S. and Christian flags. "Strength and honor through The Lord,"

the words on the float read.

The Moose lodge won the Past Grand Marshal's award for its float that included a real serviceman and balloons that were released periodically. Nick Musick is being deployed to Iraq in August with the U.S. Army. Stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. He had come to Ironton for a family visit when he was surprised when he was asked to take part in the procession.

"I came home to see my Mom for the weekend and I went to the VFW with her and they asked me if I wanted to do this," he said. Moose members, as it turned out, had contacted the VFW 8850

looking for a service man or woman to ride on their float.

Apostolic Gospel Church of Ironton won the Youth award float. A huge Bible dominated the float that also included young people in costumes and U.S. and Christian flags.

Christ Episcopal Church won the Civic Float award. Tombstones representing those who lost their lives in various wars shared attention with Uncle Sam, who held bar bells that read "Strength" and "Honor."

The first time around…

Some of the entries in this year's lineup were new to the parade. Among the new entries was "Ace," the Ironton Police Department K-9 unit. The German Shepherd police dog took it easy, cruising the parade route in the back of a squad car.

Red Hat societies from Ironton and Scioto County were also noticeable newcomers, both figuratively and literally in their bright red millinery.

Patriot Ambulance, which opened its doors in Ironton earlier this year, had both ambulances and uniformed personnel.

The Moose Teen Club also made its debut in the parade, traveling behind the Moose Club's award winning entry.