In 141st year, Memorial Day Parade still thrills

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Few things draw Lawrence Countians together in one place, at one time — time after time — as does Memorial Day.

Ask most Lawrence Countians where they will be on Labor Day every single year and they may not be able to tell you. Thanksgiving? Maybe, maybe not. But Memorial Day, that’s different.

That’s parade day.

The 141st edition of the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade beat a thunderstorm by barely two hours, and managed to thrill a crowd of several thousand who came from far and near to honor America’s service men and women.

Awards

For the second consecutive year, the best theme award went to the Amvets 5293. A flag-draped casket stood at one end, a replica of the liberty bell at the other. There was also a real bell that members rang as they rolled through the streets. The inspiration was a joint effort.

“Everyone just gets together and thinks up things and then we get it okayed,” Amvets Commander Carroll Stamper explained.

The youth float award went to Sugar Creek Christian Academy. On board that float were people bearing picket-style signs. One read “Christ died for your freedom.” Another read “Freedom isn’t free.”

One large sign read, “Pray for continued freedom in the U.S.A.” The Rev. Mike Long, Sugar Creek Missionary Baptist Church Pastor, said some of the people on the float were veterans who attend church at Sugar Creek, some were students at the Christian school.

Two other veterans who are Sugar Creek Church members, John DeWitt and George Webb, rode in a cart behind the float.

The grand marshal award went to a float in memory of Ronald Miller, a U.S. Marine from Pedro who died in combat in 1966. The float a stark reminder of what Memorial Day truly means: Miller’s sister, Brenda DePriest, has no memories of her brother.

“I was 18 months old when he passed away,” she said. But she learned about Ronald from her parents.

“Mom had a real hard time when he passed away. There were eight of us. I was the baby. Dad never said a whole lot—Ronald was the oldest boy.”

On the float were some of Miller’s few earthly possessions: a framed collection of his letters home, his hat and shirt, all treasures of a brother who went away to war and never came home, remembered sadly every day, but perhaps most especially on Memorial Day.

The civic award float went to Tri-State Baptist Temple. In the middle of the float was a flag made of handmade paper rings bearing the names of service men and women past and present.

“We asked our church families over the past few weeks to list members of their family who are in service or have served and we came up with 156 names,” TSBT Pastor Tim Jenkins said. “We’re so excited. Last year we got the parade commander award. This is the second year we’ve been in the parade for several years.”

The Vietnam Veterans of America, Tri-State Chapter 949 garnered this year’s parade commander award.

In the middle was a photograph of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A smaller cart followed the larger float. It had the traditional Missing Man table. On the float were the words, “you are not forgotten.”

One entry made its debut and collected an award at the same time: Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Ky., picked up the past grand marshal award.

In the middle of the float was a large sign with red, white and blue stripes. On the stripes were 400 stars with the names of current or past ACTC family members in the military.

“This is our first year in the parade,” student government president Rhonda Arthur said.

Thoughts on freedom

The loudest applause from spectators was saved for those who have known sacrifice, service and honor: veterans. No one has to explain to them the meaning of Memorial Day. They know. John Dewitt served in World War II and saw combat in Europe. He was part of the Sugar Creek church and school entry.

“I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I’m 87 years old. I count it a privilege to be in this parade, especially on the Sugar Creek end of it.”

George Webb, another Sugar Creek deacon, served during the Korean War era and was stationed in Germany.

“To me, this brings back memories of what I did when I was in service,” he said. Like many of his generation, he remembers, but he is modest about his contribution to freedom.

“I was doing my part,” he said.

Rolland Holland grew up in Ironton but the U.S. Marine Corps took him far from home. He lives in San Diego, Calif., now, but he makes it back to Ironton each year for the parade, “because of the tradition, mainly,” he explained. He can remember walking in the parade in junior high and high school, back when he wore a band uniform. Monday, he proudly wore his Marine uniform.

Otis Davis, of Ironton, went into the Army in 1968 and was in the 213th Helicopter Assault Company. What does Memorial Day mean to him?

“To me, it’s about honoring people who made this country what it is today,” Davis said. “It may not be perfect but it’s the greatest country in the world. Living in this country is a blessing.”

Juan Thomas, of Ironton, served in the National Guard’s 201st Engineering Battalion. To him, Memorial Day is meant to honor veterans “from the first war on up to the present. Some have given their lives, given their all, for the freedom of this nation,” he said. “It is for all who are serving and who have served, especially the ones who gave their lives for us.”

Stories to tell

Many of the parade entries were celebratory, with flag waving children or candy-tossing employees. Other entries expressed a sentiment, a message.

The American Legion 590 celebrated Memorial Day by pointing out people in history who have had a role in shaping freedom, Kalynda Cloud explained. The float had photographs of President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy and President Barack Obama. On the float was Marshall Taylor Sr., a World War II veteran who was in combat in France, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. Behind the float was Jason Whitt, dressed as Lincoln, carrying a flag, accompanied by veterans on motorcycles.

Some members of Community Missionary Baptist Church wore T-shirts that read, “Praying for Amy,” a reference to fellow church member Amy Wilcox who is in a Cincinnati hospital recuperating from severe burns she sustained in an alleged domestic violence incident.

Community Missionary Baptist Church also had a float with a whale that was, well, whale-sized, and capable of spraying water from its blow hole and misting a Tribune reporter from a distance of three or four feet.

CMBC pastor, the Rev. David Lambert explained the church is incorporating Bible stories in its parade entry each year. This year’s whale was accompanied by, naturally, a church member dressed as Jonah.

Two entries used the parade as an opportunity to encourage civic pride and involvement: American Legion 433 had on its float a replica of Memorial Hall. That organization is raising money to restore the old building for use as a veteran’s center.

The Ro-Na Restoration Committee’s entry exhorted people to help save the old building. People dressed in costume — including one “blonde” dressed as Marilyn Monroe — walked alongside the float.

Many entries blended patriotism and faith: Campbell Chapel’s youth group float had an open Bible and the message, “America, keep holding to God’s hand.”

From the sidelines

Three members of the Sons of the Confederacy watched the parade from the sidelines. The local chapter had asked permission to march in the parade and were refused by the parade committee. SOC member John Anson said they would ask again next year in hopes of having better luck.

Sights and sounds

One segment of King’s Daughters Medical Center’s entry was not on the ground but flying high above the crowd. The KDMC chopper, its logo visible from below, made a few passes over the crowd.

Abbott Health Care and the Faithful Fighters, a group at Sharon Baptist Church, had faux fireworks on their float.

St. Paul Lutheran Church’s float included a saxophone player. It also had a cross draped in white cloth.

First Baptist Church brought Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Fred and Velma to the parade—kind of. The church’s children’s ministry now has a “Ministry Machine” that looked much like the van on the TV show. All those familiar characters and the jazzy green van were part of the parade.

A&L Home care’s float had an organ and organist who played patriotic music.

Critters

While many entries were somber, thought provoking or patriotic, others were whimsical and some, um, participants, were downright fuzzy.

Decatur Volunteer Fire Department had a helmet-wearing bear with a flag in its paw perched atop its fire truck amidst its firefighters.

Chick-fil-A’s entry had three cows. One rode serenely in a red convertible waving occasionally and politely to the crowd. One danced from the back of a pickup truck. A giant inflatable cow had the familiar sign exhorting the hungry to “eat mor chikin.”

M&M Inflatables brought Sesame Street favorites Cookie Monster and Elmo.

Come and see

The White family, from Hanging Rock, sat on the curb on Third Street and waited for the parade to pass by. Matthew White professed to “like the whole thing” while his mom, Amy, said the Shriners were her favorite sight. Like most others watching Monday, the Whites come every year.

Jacob Harris, 10, of Hanging Rock, was excited about those Shriners as well. He likes best “their old wagons.” He watched as one Shriner car reared up its front tires and said, “I want to know how they do those wheelies.”

If some in the crowd like the Shriners (more than one woman ran to hug the scimitar carrier), Shriners offered hugs to the kids who approached their vehicles and an occasional kiss for a baby or two.

For every person who comes to the parade faithfully, there is probably another one who is a newcomer experiencing the parade for the first time.

Sgt. Chris Damron, USMC, is from Charleston, W.Va. He marched in the military division and stopped to shake an outstretched hand or two as he made his way through Ironton. It was his first time in the parade.

He described it in one word: “Awesome.”