May 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Dearborn Memorial Day event honors, gives proper burial to veterans

Dearborn — As the daughter of a World War II Air Force veteran, Jacquelyn Gentry says patriotism has always been a defining element of her family.

At the Monday kickoff of Dearborn’s Memorial Day Parade, Gentry said she was moved by a military funeral procession to honor several veterans whose remains were unclaimed.

“It’s just wonderful that our veterans are stepping up and making sure that others that have served are being honored,” said Gentry, a barn lead for The Henry Ford, which provided horses for the special tribute. “They are not forgotten. They served our country, fought for our freedom, and we’ve got to remember that and honor that.”

Gentry was among those along the parade route Monday with banners, American flags and in classic cars and military uniforms to celebrate the city’s 90th annual parade honoring today’s soldiers and the unburied remains.

The parade, organized by the city and Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council, began by honoring the seven veterans, including one from Detroit, whose cremains have been stored for three decades in funeral homes.

Burying the remains is part of the Missing in America Project, which gives proper military funerals and burials to veterans who died without the resources.

Their remains are expected to soon be interred at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly Township.

Among those honored were veterans of World War I and World War II. They died between 1973 and 1993:

■Sgt. 1st Class John Avram, born March 29, 1924, in Detroit and died Jan. 25, 1986, in Detroit.

■Pvt. Andrew Hudacko, born Feb. 10, 1918, in Pennsylvania and died Feb. 22, 1993, in Detroit.

■Pvt. Howard W. Johannsen, born Aug. 10, 1918, in Chicago and died Dec. 31, 1976, in Detroit.

■Pvt. Orville M Koonce, born April 26, 1924, in Nashville, Tenn., and died Feb. 25, 1993, in Taylor.

■Sgt. Russell A Shumway, born Nov. 16, 1894, in North Dakota and died March 31, 1980, in Grand Rapids.

Jack Tate, a U.S. Army veteran and the curator of the Dearborn Historical Museum, also walked the parade route and called the city’s event a fitting tribute to the servicemen and women.

“This event is wonderful. We finally have come around to where we are respecting and showing reverence to our veterans, to those whose lives were lost in the service of this country and to the brave men and women serving today,” said Tate, 73, who proudly displayed his U.S. Army cap. “I wear this hat simply as my symbol of my support for the current members of the armed forces.”

Dearborn’s is one of numerous parades, ceremonies and other activities planned or under way in Metro Detroit, including Roseville, Northville, Waterford Township, Troy, Ferndale and Royal Oak, and statewide.

For Caroline Peltz, it’s long been tradition for her family to gather along Michigan Avenue for the city’s parade.

This year, for the first time, the Dearborn Heights resident and her daughter, Katie Peltz, walked in the parade to promote the Relay for Life of Dearborn.

The pair participated to honor both of Katie’s deceased grandfathers, who were U.S. Army veterans and also the cancer survivors in the family.

“It’s a beautiful tribute to walk in the parade,” said Caroline Peltz of her father, Darwin Fischer, a colonel in the Army Reserves, and her father-in-law, John Peltz, who served in Word War II.

“We used to come even with them in their wheelchairs as they aged. We never missed a parade,” she said, while waiting on Michigan Avenue for the procession to begin. “Our fathers are here in spirit. They are with us, we know that.”

The grand marshal at this year’s Dearborn parade was William “Spanky” Gibson, Jr., a retired U.S. Marine Corps master sergeant, who in 2008 became the first above-the-knee amputee to return to a ground combat area of operation.

The parade was followed by a noon ceremony at City Hall Park and a picnic.

In the grassy median on Michigan Avenue near the city’s police headquarters, Caitlin MacDonald, her 2-year-old son, Rylan, and father-in-law Laurie MacDonald, all of Monroe, lounged on lawn chairs to catch a glimpse of the parade bands and groups.

It was the first trip to the parade for the family which showed up hours early to get a shady spot.

“We came (here) for the music and the shade,” Laurie said. “So far it’s pretty cool.”

Gentry, who has participated in the parade for at least a decade, said this year’s festivities were more about the veterans than ever before.

“I don’t think any of us have any idea what these veterans have actually gone through,” she said. “Especially if they were involved in any battles.”
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Members of the Dearborn Firefighters carried American flags as they march down Michigan Avenue during the Memorial Day Parade in Dearborn on Monday. / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News
In their full dress, members of the Military Motorcycle Club during the ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Burying the remains is part of the Missing in America Project, which gives ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)