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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

Toledo pauses to honor service in war and peace

Toledo police lead the parade to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. Toledo police lead the parade to honor those who have served in the U.S. military.
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A private ceremony honored the late Lt. Gen. John Leonard for heroic action in World War II

Dressed head to toe in red, white, and blue and carrying a small American flag, Angelia Bell found the perfect spot along Summit Street in downtown Toledo yesterday and became one of a few thousand people who gathered to observe Memorial Day.

She was there to celebrate her son, a member of the Navy stationed in Japan. She was there to celebrate the men and women who have died while serving their country. And a Vietnam War veteran herself, the former Navy air traffic controller was there to celebrate herself.

"I live alone. It's easy not to do things, but I owe it to myself and to my son and to everyone else in the military to be here," said Ms. Bell, 55. "We're a very wounded country right now, and we need to celebrate what we can."

Leading Toledo's Memorial Day Parade were local veterans of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans of foreign wars walked or rode in cars draped with flags while marching bands from area high schools beat out rhythmic melodies.

And in everyone's hands were small fluttering flags given out by the members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Marvin Burgess, Jr., 9, wore a white T-shirt given to him by parade participants honoring a member of an Army Special Forces unit who was injured in Iraq. It was the T-shirt and the candy that the young Toledoan named as his favorite part of the parade, but he certainly recognized why he, his little sister, and his grandparents were there.

Zack Kurtz rides a kayak on the Calvary Assembly of God bible school float in the Memorial Day parade in downtown Toledo. Zack Kurtz rides a kayak on the Calvary Assembly of God bible school float in the Memorial Day parade in downtown Toledo.
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"It was to show respect to the soldiers," he said.

One of those soldiers was Perrysburg resident Ted Blanford, 36, a member of U.S. Army Reserves 216th Engineer Battalion, who rode a motorcycle in the parade. Afterward, at a ceremony in the city's Civic Center Mall, Sergeant Blanford said he was thankful that all members of his company returned safely from Iraq in February.

He added that he was pleased to see so many people at the parade - especially the lines of young children - but it was the older soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War he admired the most.

"It's nice to see people appreciate the sacrifice these veterans have made," he said. "We don't just serve. It's our life."

Away from the crowds that gathered to celebrate all members of the military, members of Lt. Gen. John Leonard's family gathered in the lobby of One Maritime Plaza for a celebration of their own. More than 30 years after the Toledoan died peacefully in his sleep at age 84, General Leonard was recognized for his heroic World War II actions.

As commander of the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division, General Leonard led the capture and crossing of the bridge at Remagen, Germany - a major victory for the Allies - but he had never been recognized in his hometown.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) honored General Leonard at a private ceremony attended by the general's family and city leaders. Representing the men of the 9th Armored Division was Chuck Gregorovich, 78, who was a private on that day in March, 1945, when the division crossed the Rhine River.

"Unfortunately, history is being lost, and we're not teaching the history of World War II or the significance of the Remagen Bridge," said Mr. Gregorovich, of St. Marys, Ohio. "It meant a lot to our victory. Of course, I wasn't so happy about it then."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.

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