This coming Monday, Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council (DAWVC) and City of Dearborn will again organize their annual parade of community groups, school bands, hundreds of veterans and historic aircraft flyovers down Michigan Avenue between Greenfield Road and Schaefer.
Though this year's Memorial Day observance will be the 90th edition, DAWVC Commander Nancy Dlugokenski said that milestone is not being played up like a centennial celebration since this year's parade theme is not the past, but “a special day-long tribute to the modern soldier.”
After the DAWVC commander picks that year's Memorial Day theme, she said, the commander will then select a grand marshal best fitting that theme. With the help of the city, the DAWVC was able to get retired Marine master sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson to be the parade grand marshal, and deliver the noon ceremony keynote address.
A recipient of more than 20 meritorious citations and a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor Device, Gibson has had his story featured in the music video “Still in the Fight” by fellow Marine Lt. Col. Mike Corrado, during the 2010 Super Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, and national media outlets (such as GQ Magazine, Sports Illustrated, the Today Show and Fox).
He was the first full leg amputee ever to return to combat. As a wounded warrior, he competed in triathlons, marathons, Half Ironman races, and on the Wounded Warrior Amputee softball team. He was nominated as one of the 10 most inspirational people of the year in 2008 by Beliefnet, and was also personally honored by President George W. Bush.
“We think he's a perfect example as the modern soldier, with so many coming back back from Iraq and Afghanistan facing PSTD and physical injuries,” Dlugokenski said. “He's the first amputee ever to go back to the battlefield, so he's faced those same challenges and overcome them.
“He's done amazing things, so he can be an inspiring example to other returning veterans in facing their trials, and that's why I asked him to be the grand marshal,” Dlugokenski said.
One thing new to the city's Memorial Day observances this year, she added, will be the Great American Hero Picnic. Following the noon remembrance ceremony at the War Memorial (besides Gibson's keynote address, including a military funeral ritual and music by the Dearborn High School marching band), these additional activities will take place in City Hall Park and along Maple Street until 3 p.m.
Maple Street will be shut down, according to Dlugokenski, so it can be filled with vehicles of the American Airborne, food trucks and the Veterans buses. The area around Dearborn City Hall will also include a kids zone, she said, offering free children's activities such as face painting and balloon inflatables.
Also set up will be Marine Corps (and possibly Navy) recruiters, the Freedom Center, the Veterans Green Bus (organizers recruit veterans to teach sustainable energy solutions and assist with large-scale community-service projects, such as working with Motor City Blight Busters in Detroit to build eco-friendly homes for veterans), the Walk a Mile in Her Boots art installation, static display vehicles provided for the event by the 101st Airborne Association, and the Mobile Vet Center (used as a mobile crisis counseling center and to provide information). More information will be provided to veterans by the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center.
“The VA is running in the news these days and is having great difficulties,” Dlugokenski said. “But their purpose is to assist our veterans, and inform them on how to get assistance with medical issues, and information they need in finding private health insurance.”
Disc jockey April Williams will be providing musical entertainment from 1-3 p.m. Also, the food trucks Mean Weenie, Treat Dreams and Shimmy Shack will be selling food between 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
However, even with the the Great American Hero Picnic being held, Dlugokenski indicated that the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 75 and Marine Corps League 152 Dearborn Detachment will still have their traditional post-parade activities.
“We just want anyone to come after the parade,” she said. “We want families of veterans, and families of active servicemen to enjoy themselves.”
One Memorial Day activity that will not be new this year is a funeral procession, taking place prior to the start of the parade at 9:40 a.m. along Michigan Avenue. This is the fourth time in the last five years that the DAWVC has searched for veterans in need of internment, as part of the Missing in America project.
This year's six veterans, whose remains have been in Michigan funeral homes for three decades after dying without resources, will be interred at the Great Lakes National Cemetery after receiving military service honors at the noon remembrance ceremony. The six are “one navy, and five army, though that includes one who served in the army air corps,” Dlugokenski said. “We are interested taking charge of any veteran remains in any possible situation where they go unclaimed, and make sure they have a funeral.”
The May 26 Memorial Day Parade will be broadcast live on CDTV, which will be carried on Comcast Channel 12, WOW Channel 10, AT & T U-Verse and at www.cityofdearborn.org (click on the U.S. Flag Memorial Day Parade button). To learn more about Dearborn's Memorial Day parade (the oldest continuous one in Michigan), visit www.cityofdearborn.org and click on the U.S. Flag graphic for information (including the parade lineup).