Dearborn will again continue one of its oldest traditions by paying tribute tomorrow to all Americans who died in military service, holding one of the nation's largest parades down Michigan Avenue from Greenfield Road to Schaefer, followed by a solemn ceremony at Dearborn's War Memorial on the grounds of City Hall.
The 89th annual Memorial Day Parade will pay special tribute to prisoners of war, former POWs, and those still missing in action. Special tribute will also be paid to seven of Dearborn's oldest surviving World War II veterans. The city and the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council will be presenting the parade at 10 a.m. Monday, which will conclude at noon with a wreath presentation and addresses by the DAWVC commander and the mayor.
Serving as grand marshals of this year's parade, and also addressing the noon ceremony, will be Ambassador Charles A. Ray and U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-MI). Ray, a veteran of 22 years in the army and current contract worker for the Department of Defense, also served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs and director of the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office. Levin, who has been on its Armed Services Committee since coming to the Senate in 1978 and chaired the committee since 2007, has spearheaded several POW/MIA initiatives, including authorizing the POW/MIA flag be displayed at federal facilities and national cemeteries, and will as supporting the National POW/MIA Day of Recognition (third Friday in each September).
The special marshal will be Major Christopher Stone, who is the operations officer for the Michigan Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion in Lansing. He endured 32 days of captivity in Yugoslavia, after being captured by Serbian forces in March 1999 in the Kosovo War.
A support group to help former POWs recover from the trauma of captivity at Ann Arbor Veterans Hospital will also be bringing former POWs to the Dearborn parade. The facilitator for the group, therapist Wayne Byrum, will join other staff members and former POWs in the parade.
The reason he picked this year's POW/MIA theme, DAWVC Cmdr. Phil Smith said, was twofold. First, because many veterans have endured being prisoners of war, he said, but there is also those who have still not been found, which has been brought to the forefront in recent years as DNA testing has been finding the remains of these MIAs.
The other reason Smith picked the POW/MIA theme was for personal reasons, His father was taken prisoner during World War II, and was part of the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines. Weighing 200 pounds when he entered the service, Smith's father weighed only 135 pounds when he was released after three years of captivity. He later went to serve in Korea, while his son had entered in the Marines.
“The issue of POWs has always been important to me,” Smith said. “We can't forget those who were prisoners—ever.”
He added there are also a couple of former POWs among the seven veterans, ranging in age from 88 through 95, who are being invited to participate in the parade, and will be recognized by Mayor John B. O'Reilly Jr. as they and their family members sit in reserved seating at the ceremony on City Hall grounds. Smith has heard that the 95-year-old veteran plans on driving to the parade.
One of these veterans Smith wanted to take special note of was Steven Szopo, because he is the last surviving World War II veteran of the eight Dearborn residents who participated in the fighting on Iwo Jima. Smith said that after Szopo's Marines 5th Division landed on Iwo Jima, they pronounced him dead and their chaplain administered last rites following an explosion. It was only when they picked him up that Szopo came to, and he heard someone say “This one is still alive.”
Szopo, 88, still helps out with Toys for Tots, and will be accompanied by his wife to the ceremony. Other veterans being recognized:
Milton Feistel, 89, served in the Navy in the South Pacific.
Harry Micek, 88, served in the South Pacific in the Army 534th Amphibious Tractor Battalion. Micek is not able to attend because of health, according to the city.
There will be an active military unit marching in front of this year's parade, Smith said, as a member of the DAWVC Memorial Day Parade Planning Committee was able to obtain a special honor guard from Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Returning to this year's parade will be the caisson, which has held in past parades the remains of servicemen who have never received proper burials.
But this year, there will be no cremated remains in the caisson, Smith said, because the national program to find the ashes of unclaimed ashes of deceased veterans turned up no cremated remains of missing Americans in this area's funeral homes. However, he said the caisson will be used again to provide recognition to these veterans.
The planned lineup in this year's parade is to also include bands from Dearborn's four high schools and several middle schools, veteran groups from Dearborn and nearby areas, local elected officials, scout and community groups, and a tribute to veterans from Ford Motor Co. More than 70 groups are to pay tribute to the veterans and those who died in service to our country. A flyover with historic aircraft will be part of the commemoration.
The Divine Child High School band will perform music for the remembrance service. As the Vietnam Veterans of America conducts the ceremony, Ray and Stone will be laying the wreath at the memorial. Also honored will be the “Roll Call of Dearborn's Fallen,” 347 people from Dearborn who sacrificed their lives in World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War.
The Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Detroit office of Veteran's Affairs will have booths on the site, according to Smith, and the American Legion Post on Telegraph will have a motorcycle raffle for its Veterans Helping Veterans program. He said the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 75 on Tireman will have a release of balloons to honor the fallen after the parade and ceremony, and that the Marine Corps League post behind City Hall and the American Legion Post on Telegraph should also be open after the ceremony.
The members of the DAWVC Memorial Day Parade are Smith, DAWVC Senior Vice Commander Gino Polidori, DAWVC trustee Tom Wilson, George Harvey, Gary Tanner, Craig Tillman, Sean Green, Bill Bazzi, John Ruselowski, Nancy Dlugokenski, Salwa Haji, Maureen VanHooser, Ron Bukowski and Ken Preiss.
For further information on Dearborn's Memorial Day parade, visit www.cityofdearborn.org/memorialdayparade. The City of Dearborn Government page on Facebook will also have historic photos and detailed event information.