50 Years, 50 Stories

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Published May 8, 2006 in The Ledger Independent

It was a red, white and blue day in Maysville Sunday as hundreds of people lined the streets to pay tribute to the soldiers of the 301st Chemical Unit of the Kentucky Army National Guard.

Floats, flags and bands paraded through town as soldiers rode in convertibles amid a flurry of confetti where they were saluted and hailed as heroes by the crowd which lined the streets. Many of those watching the parade waved flags themselves and several held signs thanking the soldiers for their service.

The parade was to honor the soldiers of the 301st Chemical Company, which was deployed to Iraq with the 940th Military Police Company of Walton. The troops who, as Chaplain Jay Padgett said, left the lush bluegrass for desert sands, returned from the war in Iraq in January.

After the parade, a Freedom Salute to the troops was held at the Mason County High School Fieldhouse, where politicians, families and veterans gathered to show support for the soldiers. Gov. Ernie Fletcher also gave his praise to the 35 men and women who served in Iraq.

“With 552 troops serving in Iraq and 222 in Afghanistan, this is a historical time in the Guard,” Fletcher said. “It is a difficult mission to birth a nation and that is what you were there to do.”

Fletcher said that if Americans do not fight for freedom, the consequence would be more attacks such as those on the World Trade Center.

“If we do not validate freedom across this nation, we will see 9/11 over and over and over,” Fletcher said.

“Freedom is not free when it comes as individuals lay the ultimate on the line,” Fletcher said.

In the audience, Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry watched as the troops received praise from commanders and community leaders. She too, gave her support to the men and women who served in Iraq for 13 months.

“I applaud the community for such a public display of patriotism,” Henry said. “I’m proud to be from a county that loves America and its troops. I’m glad to be here to help say ‘Welcome Home!’”

Mayor David Cartmell also praised the city and the county for supporting the troops. That support helped him, Rep. Mike Denham and former U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas bring home the troops for Christmas 2004. While the company was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Cartmell received a call from a family member who wanted to know if the city buses could make it to Fort Dix and bring the soldiers home.

“No, but they can make it to Cincinnati,” Cartmell said.

With that he and the others raised money and pulled a few strings to get the company home for Christmas, just weeks before they were deployed to Iraq.

“We called Fort Dix and the base commander didn’t want to let the troops come home,” Denham recalled. “What they didn’t know was that I had been stationed at Fort Dix and I know how I felt about being there.”

Denham called Lucas and said the community needed a little help in Washington D. C.

“We got an adjustment on the base commander’s attitude,” Lucas said.

Both men praised the troops for their service and the community for its support.

After dignitaries gave their praise, each soldier was given a flag in a wooden case, a special coin and a certificate honoring them for their service.

SFC Harry Lewis said that the Freedom Salute ceremony began in December, 2003, when the Army National Guard wanted to honor the troops. The ceremony honors soldiers while thanking their families and communities for support during Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

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