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Ferndale — The kids waving flags and parents holding hats over hearts fell silent Monday as Steve Thomson marched along the Memorial Day parade route, bleats from his bagpipes rippling through a neighborhood north of Nine Mile.

The crowd was two people deep in some spots during the 97th annual parade in Ferndale, the longest continuous Memorial Day event in the state.

The observance was a scene repeated across Metro Detroit as communities from Dearborn to Rochester Hills honored service members, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In Dearborn, former Navy SEAL Ryan "Birdman" Parrott was the grand marshal. Parrott created a national group that helps military and emergency service workers who have survived burns while on duty.

The Ferndale event was more solemn than most. No floats. No candy, no clowns.

Just veterans groups marching to the staccato snap of a snare drum and wearing dress blues with creases so sharp they could slice sausage. A high school band. Some Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. A few muscle cars, including a red Chrysler Newport.

World War II sniper Al Schoening sat in silence along the parade route, an American flag stuffed in the basket of his red electric scooter.

He's 91, and his legs don't work anymore. He puffed on a cigarette and remembered his days serving in Europe with Gen. George Patton.

"Ah, he was a soldier," Schoening said between puffs while parked along Nine Mile. "He was a damn good general."

The retired field engineer was clear about the purpose of Memorial Day.

"It's to honor the boys that fell," Schoening said. "We lost more men in one day (during World War II) than in Iraq. It seems like people forget the boys who served in World War II. There's not many of us left."

A block away, Vietnam veteran Al Gobie, 64, of Ferndale, leaned on a red Chevrolet truck, taking a minute of rest before carrying the U.S. flag during the parade for the 37th time.

"I'm an emotional man for what I did for this country," Gobie said. "I do this to honor my comrades. That's what this is about."

A block away, near Livernois and Maplehurst, was a mobile graveyard, dozens of volunteers carrying 260 posters with photos of service members from Michigan killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The volunteers were with the Michigan Fallen Foot Float.

Organizer Larry Saville shouted directions to volunteers, telling the group's members that relatives of the fallen service members were along the parade route.

"We are their witnesses now," Saville said. "When we walk by, nobody can stay neutral (about the war). This demands a response."

Ferndale resident Bryan Salogar, 56, volunteered to carry a poster honoring Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cathcart, 31, of Bay City, who was killed in Afghanistan last year.

Salogar also marched to honor his father, a World War II veteran, and his brother, who served in Vietnam.

"I'm thankful for what they did and I'm grateful they came back alive," he said.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2028

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