St. Clair Shores parade honors the fallen

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

St. Clair Shores — Gary A. Tabbert was certain he was going to be drafted during the Vietnam War, and he was ready to defend his country with his life. 

“In a sense, I wanted to go,” the 67-year-old said Sunday.

But his draft number, 213, never came up. 

Stanley Kokuba, St. Clair Shores veteran of the year, served on D Day and waves to people at the 66th Annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade in St. Clair Shores, Mich. on May 27, 2018.

"We de-escalated, so I never did have to go to ‘Nam," Tabbert said. "That I didn’t go was not my choice."

Tabbert was among thousands of spectators who stood in  intense heat to honor those who gave their lives for their country at the 66th annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day parade. 

The holiday weekend is dotted with a number of such expressions of freedom across Metro Detroit. The parade in St. Clair Shores, a tradition since 1952, has crowned itself the biggest Memorial Day parade in the Midwest.

Olympic medalist figure skater Nancy Kerrigan waves in the 66th Annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade in St. Clair Shores, Mich. on May 27, 2018.

Memorial Day, more than a  three-day weekend, is  intended as a time for Americans to come together to honor military members whose deaths preserved Americans' freedom. 

The day is about tradition, said Haley Lambert. The 33-year-old has been taking part in the parade since childhood, since her grandfather was a longtime fire chief in St. Clair Shores. This year she brought her two young children, continuing the tradition.

“This was a big thing for us, always,” Lambert said. 

She said she hopes her own children come to appreciate the parade as she has.

“I hope they get the same experience I did as a kid when I’d come with my grandparents: packing up the cooler, sweating our butt off and having a great time," she said. "I loved seeing friends, seeing family, having barbecues afterwards and seeing people you don’t normally see all the time."

Patrick Clay, 2, and his sister, Melody Clay, 5, right, pose for their mom, Michele Verbeke of St. Clair Shores while she takes a photo at the 66th Annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade in St. Clair Shores, Mich. on May 27, 2018.

More than 100 groups participated in the parade, from high school bands and dance groups and junior ROTC clubs to politicians seeking office and local businesses.

Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan rode at the front of the parade and also spent some time skating with local kids at the Civic Ice Arena afterward. 

Steven Mack is a new St. Clair Shores resident who said he chose the lakefront suburb for its beauty, safety, schools — pretty much everything.

“I want to teach (my two daughters) a little about the soldiers who have fallen for us,” Mack, 30, said as he encouraged his daughter to grab a piece of candy that had been tossed toward them. “I want to celebrate.”

Jennifer Rogers, 38, has been coming to the parade since childhood.

Her favorite thing about the parade is the public’s response to it, “the community coming together” and not allowing those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to be forgotten.

“We’re just so grateful for what the men and women do for us, and we want to show that appreciation,” she  said.

Rogers’ family secured their spot along the Harper Avenue parade route at 7 p.m. Saturday, which is late by some standards.

Her daughter, Morgan Rogers, 13, is old enough to understand the parade’s meaning. She hopes, she said, that her daughter also is old enough to appreciate it.

“I hope she wants to come back and enjoys it with her family,” Rogers said. “I hope she appreciates what they do, the sacrifice these men and women make for us.”