PRESQUE ISLE - America, freedom and Independence Day hold a special place in the heart of Ralph Gates. The 90-year-old World War II veteran served in the military and fought along allied forces in historic battles such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa and now calls Presque Isle home.
Today, Gates will serve as the grand marshal of the Lafarge Fourth of July Parade and take part in the local celebration of our nation's independence.
Gates said he served in the Coast Guard from July 1, 1942, through February 1946, before re-enlisting in March of 1949 until he retired in 1965. He said he is excited about being grand marshal and being a participant in the parade.
"This is a very great honor for me," Gates said. "This is the first time I have ever been a grand marshal and it is very exciting and I looking forward and humbled to be chosen."
Gates said as a veteran, the Fourth of July holiday serves as a reminder of how our nation's independence and liberty were earned, and he believes that a majority of the nation still holds value in what veterans past and present have sacrificed to ensure the liberties we as citizens enjoy today.
"I think everyone thinks about and are thankful for our freedom, especially on the Fourth of July," Gates said. "I think our nation's patriotism is still going as strong as it always has."
Alpena Citizen of the Year Joe Gentry recommended Gates as grand marshal for the parade to the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Normally the citizen of the year serves as grand marshall, but Gentry isn't able to do that.
The chamber agreed that Gates would be a great addition to the parade and reached out to him to see if he would accept the honor. Gates accepted and will be riding in a blue 1972 Chevrolet Caprice Convertible today. Gentry said Gates is the perfect choice for the grand marshal and is the epitome of what the holiday's purpose is.
"I thought with the anniversary of D-Day the parade should have a World War II veteran. It is just fitting for what the Fourth of July is about," Gentry said. "He told me he still had his World War II uniform and was having it dry cleaned and was going to try to wear it. He seems really excited."
Even at the age of 90 Gates doesn't let his age slow him down. For his 90th birthday last year, friends and family pitched in and got him a special gift. It was a gift certificate for him to do something he had always dreamed of doing - sky dive. Gates said the experience was everything he believed it would be and more.
"It was something I always wanted to do, but I had a wife and three kids and really couldn't afford it," Gates said. "I was able to scratch it off my bucket list last year and I loved it so much I am going to do it again for the 91st birthday on Aug. 10 this year."
Today's parade is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at the Alpena County Fairgrounds and will move down 11th Avenue, down Chisholm Street to Second Avenue and then across the Second Avenue Bridge where it will conclude on Fletcher Street.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.