Ferndale Memorial Day Parade Honors Fallen Soldiers (video)

Ferndale Memorial Day Parade Honors Fallen Soldiers (video)sidebar01reader_support

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 26, 2014)

In December of 1950, a 24-year-old man named Jesse Brown died on the side of a mountain in North Korea. His story was spoken at the 2014 Memorial Day Observance in Ferndale, where dozens of teary-eyed neighbors mourned the loss of men and women killed in military service through the generations.

Lt. Col. Lawrence Millben, a member of the Board of Directors of The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and accomplished pilot, spoke of Brown’s accomplishments and last hours on earth.

Brown was the first black Navy pilot at a time when the barriers of racism were being challenged in the military. dinos02sidelogo3Brown, who was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper, had become friends with fellow pilot Thomas Hudner, who came from a background of privilege.

“As Naval officers they were in the same squadron flying combat missions over North Korea,” Millben said. “During one of these missions, Ensign Brown’s aircraft was it by ground-fire. This caused the aircraft to crash on the side of a mountain… Without hesitation Lt. Hudner did the unthinkable. He crash-landed his aircraft beside Ensign Brown’s.”

Brown was trapped in the burning wreckage, with his legs pinned. Hudner burned his hands using snow to put the fire out. When a rescue chopper arrived, Hudner and the rescuer tried to free the gravely injured hero. It was no use. His dying wish was for his wife Daisy to know that he loved her.JudyPalmer01

Hudner and the rescue chopper left while Brown was fading in and out of consciousness. He died in the near zero temperatures alone. An air strike was ordered on the area so that opposing troops could not find the body or the planes, and the area was Napalmed.

“This illustrates to me two reluctant heroes, protecting our troops, who were protecting us, while protecting each other,” Millben said.

Brown had paved the way towards the welcoming of black pilots, and served as an inspiration to men like Millben. In 1952 Millben won an Exceptional Service Ribbon from the Civil Air Patrol, and went on to become the first African American pilot in the Michigan Air National Guard. He flew in service as an enlisted ctechadairmen for 19 years then pursued a career rich in technology, education, and honoring the history which he himself was part of.

Ferndale’s Loss in the Great War

Ferndale hosts Michigan’s longest-running Memorial Day Parade. For 96 years the community has remembered those who lost their lives in military service. Mayor Dave Coulter focused his speech at Monday’s ceremony about a brief window of history that showed the cost of war in Ferndale’s early years.

“This year marks an important milestone in our history. It is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Now Ferndale wasn’t even a village in 1914, we wouldn’t become a village until three years New Harvest Homes NHHafter that… but even still Ferndale made a sacrifice to that war, an on that stone right there are the names of 73 boys and men who gave their lives from Ferndale in the first Great War,” Coulter said.

“It was one of the most bloody wars in the history of our nation. The reason for that is because it was fought mostly in trench warfare, and it was a particularly brutal and deadly war. On average 6,500 people a day, every day, every day of that war, were killed. We remember those people today, and the ten million other people who gave their lives in that war.”

Remembering Michigan’s Fallen

Memorial Day began to honor the deceased of the Civil War, but has carried on to the numerous conflicts since. A unique part of Ferndale’s Memorial Day Parade is the Michigan’s Fallen Foot Float, a silent march of HowesLocationnearly 300 people carrying signs in honor of those who have been killed since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began. Each walker holds the place of a life lost, with some walkers carrying signs for two or more fallen soldiers.

The parade is a mix of solemn tributes and celebrations of patriotism and freedom. Veterans, community groups, marching bands and others in the community come together to remember and support each other.

Al Gobie of the VFW has been taking part in the Memorial Day Parade for 36 years. He spoke of the numerous family members he’s had in military service, and honored his 90 year old mother who was the VFW Post 1407 Past President for 59 years.

Earl Sparkman, one of Ferndale’s oldest Veterans at age 79, was the honorary parade marshal. He served in the army, protecting the mountains of Hawaii from potential attack during the Vietnam War, beginning in 1958. “I lost a lot of good friends during that I was there with, but I will tell you that for every friend I lost I gained a dozen more. Ferndale’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

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