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Getting parade ready (WITH GALLERY)

Past grand marshals gather for meal, fellowship

On Tuesday night, the past grand marshals of the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day parade gathered for the first time in two years to eat and have some fellowship before they got back to the working of putting on the 153rd Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day parade on Monday.

Last year, the dinner was canceled because of COVID-19 mandates handed down by the state preventing large gatherings.

This year’s speaker was Dr. Teresa McKenzie, a U.S. Air Force veteran and Ohio University Southern’s Accessibility Coordinator and the Veteran’s Service Coordinator.

She was born in North Carolina. After graduating high school in 1983, she went to the Western Carolina University to get an accounting degree but in her second year, she changed her major to Psychology and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Guidance and Counseling.

In 1988, she joined the U.S. Air Force and with her degree, she became an inpatient psychiatry tech.

At the start of the first Gulf War, she was sent to Wiesbaden, Germany, where there was a regional medical center for U.S. troops.

Her last assignment was at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. in 1992. That is where she met her future husband, Paul, whose home was in Flatwoods, Kentucky.

“He got out first and moved back here,” McKenzie said. When she left the Air Force, she followed him here and got a job at Pathways in Morehead, Kentucky.

McKenzie left Pathways to work at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth working with adults to get them into college. She then came to OUS where helps students with disabilities have equal access to education despite any underlying condition.

In March 2020, she got doctorate in Adult Education from Capella University.

McKenzie said her goal at OU is to make sure that the students who come to her office get what they need to be a success.

She said before she moved here, she had very little idea where Kentucky was, let alone Flatwoods. She said one Memorial Day, they were crossing the bridge into Ironton for the parade and Paul was telling her all about it and how his family had a tradition of going early in the morning.

“He talked about how amazing and how wonderful it was,” McKenzie said. She said what impressed her the most about the parade is how that it has always been focused on the veterans.

“When I look at the history, every year the focus is the veteran, since 1868,” she said. “As a veteran, knowing that the longest, continuous expression of appreciation and gratitude for those who fought for this country’s freedom brings out many memories and emotions in me.”

It reminds her that her first overseas assignment was in Wiesbaden, Germany and had to rely on her military family that did everything together.

And she also remembers the stories of those who were coming back from serving in the Gulf and told her what they had seen as part of their therapy.

“I still carry those memories and this parade is a broad way to recognize my fellow service members and that makes me even prouder to have served and to be here tonight,” McKenzie said.

This year’s honorary grand marshal is Tim Carpenter, who is the Lawrence County Veterans Service officer. From Deering, he joined the U.S. Army. He had five combat deployments, including in Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield, Kuwait for Desert Storm, two tours in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, as first sergeant with the responsibility for 380 men.

After 26 years of active duty service, he returned to Lawrence County.

“I have a deep belief in what Memorial Day represents,” he told the crowd. He said he remembers coming into Ironton to see the parade and then visiting the cemeteries where the veterans of his family were buried.

“The Army was my motivator to do the things I thought I could do in my life. In my 26 years, I climbed to the top of Mt. Rainer in Washington when I was stationed at Fort Lewis. I rappelled down a volcano 300 off the coast of South Korea. I was on guard duty in the DMZ when the Berlin Wall came down. I was standing on a sand dune in Saudi Arabia when Desert Shield shifted into Desert Storm. I stood guard over a mass grave in Bosnia Herzegovina where 3,000 people had been murdered. I was at the motor pool at Fort Stuart, Georgia when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I did five combat tours, I was involved in 18 firefights, 22 raids. I never dreamed I would see any of those things. Some were horrific, but all were breathtaking. And all were part of my journey.”

He said he faced his fear and came through the other side when many of his brothers were not that lucky.

“It is my honor to represent them, their sacrifice, on not only this one but every Memorial Day,” Carpenter said.

After his speech, he was presented with a quilt handmade by Ruby Kerns as a token of appreciation for serving America.

The 2021 parade grand marshal is Lou Pyles, one of the parade’s organizer. This is her second time as grand marshal, having previously been the grand marshal in 2006.

As with all the grand marshals, Pyles was presented with a cane carved by Charlie Cook.

The cane features a bald eagle as the topper, a Purple Heart award and a small Holy Bible carved into it.
Pyles explained that she requested the cane be carved with the Purple Heart and the Bible in honor of her father. Every year, she carries her father’s Bible in the parade.

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your grand marshal this year,” she said. “It is a wonderful experience. I love this parade. We work hard to make it a positive for this community.”

She thanked everyone who works so hard to put the parade on every year.

“But it is all for a positive thing. We have this parade so we honor the ones who that sacrifice their lives so live in freedom in this country that we do,” she said. “We also honor our veterans who died after they came home. Because they all made sacrifices — they left their families and their homes to go fight for us.”