PIQUA — Piqua’s annual Memorial Day parade was host to a range of veterans riding in vintage cars representing the many conflicts that American servicemen and women have lost their lives in, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition to commemorating those veterans and the fallen servicemen and women, those a part of the parade also honored prisoners of war and those who went missing in action. Members of various veterans groups and organizations, first responders, Harley Davidson riders, and other service groups rode one after the other in the parade.
The parade also featured Dr. Vivian Blevins, a faculty member at Edison Community College, as the grand marshal for the parade, along with Mayor Kazy Hinds and City Commissioner Bill Vogt. The Piqua Civic Band, the Piqua High School Band, and the Lehman High School Band also performed during the parade and the ceremony that followed.
Hundreds of community members came out for the event. The Piqua Fire Department was at the tail end of the parade group, following a collection of vintage military jeeps and war machines, including an LST.
During the Memorial Day ceremony following the parade, American Legion Post 184 Commander Cody Winsler was the master of ceremonies. The invocation and benediction were led by Pastor Kenneth Stewart of Greene Street United Methodist Church.
“We stand on the backs of who have gone before us,” Stewart said during the invocation prayer. Stewart said that Americans live in a better country today because of the nation’s servicemen and women, remembering those who died while serving.
Stewart added that the United States is a nation of freedom. “It is something we do not take for granted,” he said.
“We celebrate the veterans that love our country,” American Legion Auxiliary Unit 184 President Robyn Cooper said during her speech. Cooper called for the community to thank those who served as part of the United States Armed Forces as well as continuing to support them and their families.
“The family at home needs support, too,” she said.
Parade Chairman Bruce Hogston took a moment during the ceremony to honor the Friends of the Piqua Parks for the flag at the William H. Pitsenbarger statue at the Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex. Hogston presented Edna Stiefel with a placard.
Winsler then introduced the keynote speaker and Royal Air Force Wing Commander Jonathan Durke. Durke is an officer from the United Kingdom who is working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as the deputy director of logistics for the United States Air Force Sustainment Center.
“He has undertaken a variety of of different jobs and commanded at many levels,” Winsler said. “As a supply chain and transportation specialist, he has worked in a variety of different environments, including supporting air transportation, air-to-air refueling, air defense, and the battle of the Britain memorial flag. His highlight was being responsible for the all U.K. troop and freight movement throughout Iraq where life’s priorities became a little more focused.”
This summer, Durke will pursue his next assignment at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“What an awesome parade. You have a fantastic parade here,” Durke said. “President John F. Kennedy said, ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.’ Today I’m conscious that I stand before you to honor and remember the American servicemen — ordinary men and women — who died while in military service in defense of your nation’s freedom.”
Durke commented on how the United States has two holidays honoring the servicemen and women of the armed forces.
“Memorial Day is the older of the two holidays, having its roots in the Civil War,” Durke said. He said that Memorial Day remembers those who lost their lives in the service of their country and that Veterans Day honors all veterans.
“These brave men and women we celebrate today left the safety of their sovereign soil to defeat tyrants, ensure justice, and fulfill the promise of safety and security for all our citizens and the global community,” Durke said.
Durke also explained how the United Kingdom observe their memorial day as Remembrance Day, which is an observance of a day and not a public holiday. It coincides with Armistice Day and the United States’ Veterans Day as both Remembrance Day and Veterans Day grew out of Armistice Day.
“We have all been touched by the ultimate sacrifice,” Durke said.
People may also choose to wear poppies, an emblem that became connected with Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, who was also a Canadian physician. Durke quoted a line from the poem, reading, “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”
While the United States and Britain may honor the members of their Armed Forces in different ways, Durke said that the men and women who serve share many of the same qualities, including loyalty, duty, selfless service, respect, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
“We have been greatly impressed with the way American people, in the main, value their military forces,” Durke said about him and his family. “I do recognize, however, that this has not always been the case.”
Durke explained that in the United Kingdom, they have only recently begun celebrating Armed Forces Day, which was introduced in 2006 and is generally observed on the last Saturday of June.
“We have some way to go to match the day-to-day support I have witnessed here,” Durke said. Durke said that he has lost count of how many times people have stopped him and thanked him for his service.
“Both of our countries must never be complacent about the security our forces provide,” Durke said. “Against the backdrop in both the U.K. and U.S.A. — the public weariness, unclear political direction, shrinking budgets, smaller Armed Forces, together with multicultural societies and an adversity to intervene — we must never forget the freedom that we all enjoy is hard fought.”
Durke said that he has served with people who died and left behind young families. He honored the “enormous human and financial costs” both the United States and the United Kingdom have paid in the pursuit of freedom.
“Today is more than a day to celebrate those who gave their lives in service to the nation,” Durke said. “We should take this opportunity to be willing to strengthen ourselves for what lies ahead. In this world, terror will not rest, violence will not sleep, evil will not die. If we honor and remember those from all countries who have served, compassion will prevail, justice will triumph, and freedom will reign.”
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall