(C. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, June 1, 2012 ed)
For the 94th year in a row, Ferndale’s Memorial Day Parade showcased the tremendous pride and care that makes the Ferndale community great. The parade was led by Parade Marshal Tim Brennan and Honorary Parade Marshal George Williams, whose role in the documentary Victor’s Plea for Peace: An American Officer in Occupied Nagasaki was noted at the observance that followed the parade.
Ron Gimour served as announcer for the parade, letting those near the sound stage at 9 Mile and Planavon know who the many floats, marchers, bicyclists and other groups were as they passed by. The Ferndale Marching band played patriotic tunes as did younger musicians from the middle and elementary schools. Brownies and Boy Scouts strutted their stuff as the Ferndale Garden Club members waved from the windows of their decorated cars. Political folks from the School Board and City Council waved the crowds as they passed. The Ferndale Historical Society had a float with old-timey uniforms on display, including a colonial-period costume worn by Museum Director Garry Andrews. And another float, this one led by a tractor-pulled display of flags and placards of dead soldiers, filled a significant portion of the procession’s end. Nearly 200 people filled the street carrying signs, each one in honor of a soldier whose life has been lost in the Middle East, beginning with the Iraqi War. There have been 226 Michigan deaths in this time.
Those that walked in the Michigan’s Fallen Foot Float were volunteers, most holding signs for someone they had never met. Many of the young men and women came from places far away, like Traverse City, Gaylord, Saginaw and Niles. Some, however, came looking for their loved-one’s faces among the pile.
Kathleen LaTosch and her son Donovan, who live in Ferndale, walked this year to honor the passing of Marine Staff Sergeant Vincent Bell. “He was on his fourth tour of duty, had just deployed to Afghanistan and died protecting new recruits from more dangerous tasks,” LaTosch said of the Wayne native who died November 30, 2011 while on foot patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
“He was the beloved son of one of our LGBT community’s leader, Pamela Alexander, who served as a board member at Affirmations many years ago and now serves on the board of Ruth Ellis Center. He was also brother, and best friend, to my co-worker London Bell, Affirmations’ former Health and Wellness Manager. He was well-loved by his family and a very courageous man and kind leader to his troops. He is missed by many and it was my honor to be able to carry his image in the parade on Monday while his family attended services at Arlington National Cemetery.” Bell, just 28 years old, was killed by an improvised explosive device while patrolling. According to The Military Times, “Bell began serving in the Marine Corps on July 9, 2001. The artilleryman was based at Camp Pendleton. He was part of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As LaTosch and the scores of other silent marchers passed, parade-goers held their hands over their hearts, saluted, and some even cried. The mass of human beings reminded the crowd of the vast loss of life that that war in the Middle East has cost, with 226 fallen soldiers from Michigan alone.
At the Memorial Day Observance that followed, parade Trustee Helen Webber read the names of twenty-five Ferndale Veterans who passed away since Memorial Day 2011. Most were World War II Veterans.
Mayor Dave Coulter also spoke at the observance, explaining that Memorial Day has its origins in a Decoration Day started by women who honored both Union and Confederate soldiers in a cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. While the origin is somewhat disputed, it is generally agreed that observance began in the early 1860s. Ferndale held its first Memorial Day Parade in 1919, and is the longest-consecutive Memorial Day Parade in Michigan.
Learn more about Memorial Day and other history at The Ferndale Historical Society website.
Keith Dalton of The Dalton Group made a video of the parade: