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MD 2010: Holiday events shaping up

It is one of the finest offerings — if not the finest — Lawrence County makes each year: The expression of gratitude to those who have served, or are serving, their country in the nation’s armed forces.

This week, Lawrence County begins its tribute to veterans with the annual Navy Night service Thursday.

The tribute continues next Sunday with the Woodland Cemetery Service and then next Monday, May 31, with the nation’s oldest continuous Memorial Day Parade.

Navy Night

Memorial Day weekend activities actually begin on Thursday this week. At 7 p.m. Thursday the annual Navy Night service will be at the Center Street Boat Landing. The service is the community’s official thank-you to the sea-going services.

One new addition this year is Marathon Petroleum’s Maritime Division.

As the staff members of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Watercraft, lay a wreath in the Ohio River near the end of the service, Marathon employees will raise the flag on their boat from half-staff.

After the wreath is in the water, the Marathon boat horn will sound. Parade committee member Lou Pyles said Marathon participated in Memorial Day activities years ago and she is glad to have them return.

“I think it will add a little more to Navy Night,” she said.

The speaker for this year’s event is Dean Palmer, supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper will be master of ceremonies.

The Rock Hill High School Alumni Band will provide patriotic selections and members of the Wilderness Road Girl Scout Council will toss flower petals into the water.

The Rev. Chad Burns will offer the invocation and benediction. The Veterans of Foreign Wars 8850 will provide color guard and official parade bugler Zach Jenkins will play “Taps.”

Each year members of the U.S. Naval Reserve of Eleanor, W.Va., attend the Navy Night service. In their gleaming white uniforms, they stand at attention in neat rows near the speaker’s podium. Their presence is one thing Pyles said she most looks forward to each year.

“When I see them march in their uniforms, I just feel so proud. They look so wonderful. My heart just swells,” she said.

While the service is at the boat landing, members of the parade committee, the band and the Naval Reserve start off with a march from the corner of Fourth and Center streets at the edge of the courthouse. Attendees who can are invited to march with them.

Woodland Cemetery

After Navy Night, the focus then turns to the annual Woodland Cemetery service at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 30.

Attorney Mark McCown will be master of ceremonies. The Rev. Chad Pemberton will give the invocation and benediction.

Pyles said there will be two guest speakers: Leon Johnson, VFW Ohio State Commander, and U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Peyton, who has served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now stationed in Virginia.

Pyles pointed out that while it is important to thank those who have served our country, it is also important to thank those who are serving now. Peyton will also ride in the parade.

While the parade, with its often merry atmosphere and huge crowd, usually commands the lion’s share of the holiday attention, the two remembrance services, solemn and reflective, are also important, Parade Grand Marshal Ella McCown said.

“These services, I think, puts everything into perspective,” McCown said. “I know Memorial Day can be a lot of fun and people get together with their families and it’s a big day. But Thursday and Sunday and then on parade day, with those first entries in the parade, that puts it all into perspective about why we do this. It’s for our veterans.”

Herb Rose will provide special music; bugler Zach Jenkins will play “Taps” and members from the VFW, AmVets, Military Order of the Purple Heart and American Legion will lay wreaths in tribute to fallen soldiers.

By the time the crowd gathers in the soldier’s section, the cemetery will be dotted with red, white and blue.

Parade committee members and other volunteers and Woodland Cemetery employees will have spent hours out of the week making sure each soldier’s grave is appropriately adorned.

More than 4,000 flags will stand at attention at the tombstones of departed veterans at Woodland Cemetery. Still more will fly in the breeze on the overpass railing across U.S. 52 leading into the cemetery.

The parade

Lawrence County has been doing it since 1868 and this year marks the 142nd edition of what many believe the county does better than anybody else.

The Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade begins at 10 a.m. at Sixth and Center streets. From there, the two-and-a-half-hour-long procession — all 12 divisions— turns onto Third Street and continues southward to Quincy Street. After a left turn on Quincy, the parade procession will continue to Sixth Street and back to Center Street.

It begins with the VFW color guard, representatives of various military and veterans organizations, McCown as grand marshal, parade commander Angie Chamberlin and the riderless horse, Cruiser, led by equestrian Dee Staley.

An estimated 2,000 people will march in the parade. As many as 25,000 will watch from the sidelines, applauding as the bands, the floats, the veterans and other participants go by.

“I love to see the way people react to the parade,” Chamberlin said. “I have so much pride in being part of it.”

The theme for this year’s event is “Land of the Free… Because of the Brave.”

One thing McCown hopes for is good weather. Recently, area residents have contended with an almost daily round of showers. Will the skies be dry in time for Memorial Day?

“I keep telling myself we’re just getting it all out of our system now and it will be over in time for Navy Night,” McCown laughed. “I just want us to get past all this rain.”