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Maria Stebbins cheers for veterans as they march past her spot on Parnell Avenue toward Memorial Coliseum during the annual Memorial Day parade.

Servicemen, fallen honored

Families remember their loved ones at Memorial Day parade in city

Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Allen County Council of Veterans Organizations commander Patricia Allison salutes a wreath honoring Cpl. Ryan Woodward, a city native who was killed in Iraq, as Woodward’s parents, Sue and Michael, look on.
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Patriot Guard Rider Jim Fretz, center, stands on Parnell Avenue, holding a U.S. flag as the Memorial Day parade approaches.

As the national anthem started to play, a perfectly timed gust of wind unfurled Old Glory in all her majesty at the annual Allen County Memorial Day ceremony Monday.

Veterans gathered in the audience around the flag outside Memorial Coliseum and raised their hands in salutes as civilians gave quiet reflection.

At the end of the ceremony, three wreaths were laid at the base of the flagpole: one for the community, one for those listed as missing or prisoners of war and one for gold star mothers.

Mike and Sue Woodward laid the Gold Star wreath in memory of their son, Ryan, and for all the other children who never returned home from the battlefield.

Cpl. Ryan Woodward was only 22 when he died, killed by small-arms fire Sept. 8, 2007, north of Baghdad. During his short time in service he amassed several commendations, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal and several others.

Aside from Ryan's parents, his brother Ben and sister Brooke were at the ceremony to pay tribute to their brother and the hundreds of thousands of veterans killed in action or who have since passed.

A 2003 Carroll High School graduate who played football and wrestled, Ryan Woodward joined the service in 2006 and was in Iraq for nine months before he was killed.

“Everything was pretty quiet it seemed until the day he passed,” Sue Woodward said after the ceremony. Had family members not been asked to lay the wreath at the ceremony, they would have spent the day together to visit Ryan's grave and attended the parade.

For the Woodwards, and the others who lined Parnell Avenue for the annual parade, it was clear Monday was far more than just a three-day weekend.

“I'm here to honor my guys who have died,” World War II veteran Marvin Priddy said, emotion welling in his eyes.

Only two others are left from his squadron. He lost friends not only to natural causes after the war but also to plane crashes during combat.

Part of Priddy's service included flying C-47s full of coal into Berlin after the war as part of the Berlin Airlift. He served active duty intermittently from 1945 until 1959.

For him, the families with young children who came out to pay tribute were the highlight of the day.

“The most important thing is all these young kids here,” Priddy said, adding that it's crucial to teach new generations about the sacrifices of those who came before them.

Valeri McCormick and Barb Elkins were attending the parade for the fifth year and said the crowd near Memorial Coliseum seemed the largest they've seen in years.

Earlier in the day they placed a flag in Highland Park Cemetery at the grave of a longtime friend, Steve Faylor, who served in the military in the 1970s and died in 2003.

“We want to honor those who gave their lives for us,” said McCormick, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Fellow Navy veteran Gerard “Jerry” Kessens was pleased to see a large turnout for the parade and ceremony.

He served active duty from 1955 to 1987, including a year in Vietnam where he flew combat support missions as photographer and air crewman.

“People need to come out to remember what Memorial Day is about … it's hard to get people enthused,” he said, especially since the end of the Iraq War and drawdown in Afghanistan.

New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald, who spoke at the ceremony, echoed the sentiments of others when it came to the quiet reflection and tribute that should be given those who died during or after their time of service.

“Today is not a day of celebration, or of barbecues and lake parties,” he said.

McDonald said the nation must honor those who paid the ultimate price for their nation because “we can do no less.”

“It is a steep cost … measured in the hearts of fathers and mothers,” he said.