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37th Annual Memorial Day Ceremony and Parade in Sterling Heights with Grand Marshal Vietnam Veteran Joe Organek, Jr..

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The Memorial Day parade Monday in Sterling Heights was bittersweet for Grand Marshal Joseph Organek Jr.

The Vietnam veteran had expected to watch his father, Joseph Organek, who served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War, take the helm of this year’s parade. But his dad, who helped establish the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6250 in the city, died in December before he could assume the post.

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“He was three months shy of his 100 birthday,” said Organek, a Sterling Heights resident and U.S. Army veteran who was chosen to fill in for his father. “I was next in line.”

Organek spoke to the crowd gathered before the parade and joined other veterans and Sterling Heights Mayor Michael C. Taylor in laying wreaths at stone memorials of military members killed in the line of duty. The event was among dozens of parades and ceremonies to recognize the holiday across Metro Detroit, from Dearborn to Ferndale and Northville.

“Today is always a somber one ... please remember Memorial Day was started not for barbecues,” Organek said.

About 70 groups participated in Sterling Heights’ 37th annual event this year from veterans groups, high school bands, scouting troops and even a local roller derby group.

“It’s just a recognition of those that gave their life and service for our beautiful country,” said Heather ‘Rollin’ Harley’ Felton. She was joined by about 30 other women and girls from the Eastside Junior Derby who rolled their way through the route.

Fred Haustein “can’t count” how many times he’s been in the city’s parade. The 90-year-old served in the Marines during World War II.

This year he had to ride in a minivan with Korean War veterans because the truck he was supposed to travel in was stolen a few days ago.

“They are pretty close,” Haustein joked of the two wars.

Haustein’s daughter Cathy said she enjoys seeing the large crowds that turn out.

“Just the respect ... to come out after so many years of service,” she said.

Tlalli Campos and her friend, EdmundoTorreblanca, attended the parade for the first time. The two automotive engineers are from Mexico and recently came to Metro Detroit to work in the industry.

“I wanted to come and see how the country supports its veterans,” said Campos, 31, of Novi. “It’s nice to see you pass the tradition on to the young people.”

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2396

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