History marches on

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In spite of the unseasonal heat and humidity, the crowds came, the guns sounded and the 142nd edition of the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade came and went before the scattered showers.

Red, white and blue bunting? It was everywhere. Floats and marching bands? Check. A dancing Statue of Liberty? This year’s parade even had that.

The visitors

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The parade naturally draws attention and, this year, it attracted the attention of folks from outside of Lawrence County.

Gov. Ted Strickland made his second appearance in the parade. He said it was good to be back in Lawrence County for the nation’s oldest continuous Memorial Day Parade in the nation.

“This is not the first time and it won’t be the last,” Strickland said.

Ohio Treasurer Kevin Boyce got an introduction to it, as did Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessy.

“I hear it’s one of the oldest and longest Memorial Day parades in the entire United States,” Boyce said. “There is a rich history in this part of the state.”

Boyce’s father served two tours of duty in Vietnam, as did O’Shaughnessy’s father and mother. Her mother was a Navy WAVE.

“Mom and Dad were in World War II and that was certainly a life-changing thing,” she said.

“I have respect for all who served and fought and died for this country. It is important we never forget.”

If O’Shaughnessy seemed a little more at home here, it was with good reason. In high school she came here when her high school played Ironton in football.

The visitors were both Democrat and Republican. While Strickland, O’Shaughnessy and Boyce are Democrats, Dr. Terry Johnson, a Republican who is running for Ohio’s 89th House District rode aboard a large military vehicle in the parade.

The awards

Mt. Calvary Freewill Baptist Church’s youth group won this year’s Best Theme award.

At one corner stood a cross wrapped in a chain while a depiction of Christ, in white, stood with broken chains. Along the sides stood military figures, all black, with broken chains.

The meaning was clear: Christ broke spiritual chains and, through the years, the American soldier has broken the bonds of oppression and tyranny. In the middle of the float on an American map were photographs of soldiers.

“These are either people at our church or family members of people at our church,” float supervisor Robin Blagg said.

Along the parade route the church played a tape of the song, “My Chains Are Gone.”

The Grand Marshal award went to Amvets 5293. A casket in the middle of the float was draped in a flag. A wounded, wheelchair-bound soldier sat at one end, a stark view of the reality of war for so many soldiers and their families.

“It was just everyone’s idea,” Amvets member Tom Laber said.

Campbell Chapel Freewill Baptist Church won the youth float award — an award that may have come from divine inspiration and some perspiration.

“I have a method (of getting ideas) most people don’t have,” Shannon McCarty explained. “I pray and then I cut grass.”

Cut grass?

“When I cut grass I get ideas. It’s my alone time for me to think. People probably think I’m really weird.”

But it apparently works. A field of small white crosses that could stand at attention at the head of a soldier’s grave were at one end of the float. A large wooden cross was at the other end. Along the side was the Bible verse, “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for a friend.”

Churches fared well this year when collecting those awards.

The Past Grand Marshal award went to Memorial United Methodist Church.

While the float was festooned with a patriotic theme, it was no doubt the Statue of Liberty, Revolutionary War figure, soldier and sailor who danced alongside it all the way down the parade route that snatched the judges’ attention.

“We went to have fun and show the laid back atmosphere of our church with their dancing,” Memorial UMC Pastor Brad Jenkins explained.

Tri-State Baptist Temple took home the Parade Commander award. It had youth with flags surrounding a display of glittery fireworks.

“We’re excited and thankful we can participate in this parade and remember the brave men and women who have defended our country,” Pastor Tim Jenkins said.

Oakland Chapel collected the Civic award. The float was bright yellow and carried children in day-glo lime.

The floats

Some floats were dedicated in memory of or in honor of someone close to that church or organization. This year’s VFW 8850 float was dedicated to the memory of Bruce Dixon, who led the organization’s honor guard. He died late last month.

The Doc Riley Chapter 51 of the Disabled American Veterans had two floats in the parade, one they have used before devoted to soldiers who were either missing in action or prisoners of war. The other float was a colorful red, white and blue with lots of shine and glitter.

Linnville United Baptist Church dedicated their float in memory of the Rev. Billy Payne, who died recently.

Other entries had their own theme or a unique aspect. Pleasant Street Church included its stick team in its entry. A stick team is a group of people who make a choreographed dance using a pair of one-and-a-half-feet-long sticks.

Symmes Valley Freewill Baptist Church’s float had live flower arrangements at the sides and a big seed packet in the middle. A sign read, “Planting seeds of faith.”

J&H Erectors, the company that has built many of the area’s new schools, topped its float with a large piece of construction machinery.

The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps had a large ship in its float.

Some entries included music with the floats. Health Management Nursing Services and Ultimate Health Care, Inc., had a live bluegrass band aboard their float.

Charlie’s Hog Heaven went to polka music, played by live musicians.

Singer Billy Lee Clark played a tape of his own music and instruction on how to order a compact disc.

Everybody pitches in

A two-and-a-half hour parade does not happen without a lot of volunteers. In addition to the parade committee, Boy Scouts carried the division number and name flags at the head of all 12 divisions.

And then there were volunteers no one probably saw but were there and providing an essential service: Members of the local amateur “ham” radio group provided communication between divisions and with other necessary entities before, during and after the parade, as they have for years.

The fun

While there were stark reminders of what the day was really all about — the official riderless horse walked near the front of the procession and the parade always includes nearly every veteran’s organization in the county — there were mirthsome moments, too.

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office brought out Skipper, the radio-controlled water safety education tool.

“My name is Skipper,” the smiling robot boy in the boat told parade goers. Splish and Splash were there, too, riding aboard the office’s marine patrol boat.

Bridges Christian Church brought a person dressed as an elephant.

Smokey Bear made his annual appearance, riding atop a U.S. Forestry Service vehicle.

Ohio University Southern brought its wildcat mascot.

A couple of participants walked on all fours down the parade route. South Point Little League brought a Boston Terrier.

The Chick–fil –A float included a large inflatable cow while the KFC entry included someone dressed as a chicken.

Hamilton Township included a tiny, adult driven fire truck in its lineup of vehicles.

South Point Volunteer Fire Department brought its small utility vehicle to the parade while Decatur Volunteer Fire Department rolled out its larger “Big Red” multi-utility vehicle, a new acquisition.


For the kids, no parade would be complete without the candy and a good many who came to sit on the sidelines collected a fair amount of bubble gum and suckers.

But some entries handed out less traditional goodies. King’s Daughters Medical Center handed out, in addition to candy, kitchen bag clips. Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital’s Green Team handed out seed packets and small pine tree seedlings.

A&L Home Care and Nursing Center tossed out small stuffed balls.

Chick-fil-A passed out coupons for free food.

Perhaps the freebie that gets the most laughs, but probably no one ever actually takes home comes from the pocket of cardiologist Richard Paulus, who rides his motorcycle each year in a white lab coat.

Paulus is often humorously accused of carrying food in his pockets and eating it while making his rounds at the hospital. On parade day, he frequently carries slices of pizza and hands it out to people on the sidelines.