Members of the VFW Bruce Post 1146 stand at attention as the flag is lowered to half staff during a Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony May 30 at Veterans Memorial Park.

Members of the VFW Bruce Post 1146 stand at attention as the flag is lowered to half staff during a Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony May 30 at Veterans Memorial Park.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Memorial Day service returns to Veterans Memorial Park

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 11, 2021

 A wreath is laid in memory of Army Specialist Stephen Okray, who died at age 21 on Dec. 24, 2008, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A wreath is laid in memory of Army Specialist Stephen Okray, who died at age 21 on Dec. 24, 2008, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Before the barbecues, before the crowds drag chairs, blankets and umbrellas to line the parade route, before motorcycles shatter the silence of the afternoon to kick off the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade, another, more intimate ceremony honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.

Tom Espey, chaplain and past master of the Jefferson Masonic Lodge #553, said the wreath-laying ceremony held each year at Veterans Memorial Park the morning before Memorial Day is a way to honor “those who made this day possible.”

Hosted by the VFW Bruce Post 1146, the event included the laying of wreaths at the memorial monument in the park for each branch of the military, for Gold Star families and prisoners of war, to honor “the ones who didn’t make it back, (who) gave their lives for this reason,” said Doug Gettleson, past master of the Jefferson Masonic Lodge.

“Freedom is hard to keep, and they fought for it and died for it,” he said before the 9 a.m. May 30 ceremony.

The memorial drew members and veterans of all branches of the armed forces, family, friends and community members who wanted to pay homage to those killed in the line of duty.

“It’s a time to give reverence to those who fought so valiantly and lost, (including) our son and the two who perished with him,” said Mary Beth Okray, of St. Clair Shores. She is the mother of Army Specialist Stephen Okray, who died at age 21 on Dec. 24, 2008, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His brother, Jeff Okray, and his family laid a wreath in Okray’s honor during the ceremony.

“There was no service last year,” Mary Beth Okray said. “It’s kind of like we’re at the beginning of renewal and some normalcy.”

Eva Rodriguez retired from the U.S. Army 20 years ago but has lived overseas since then. This is her first year returning to U.S. soil, so she wanted to take time to participate in a Memorial Day service.

“It’s about reconnecting to the country, to the people, to my soldiers,” she said. “It’s nice to see the families.”

Led by VFW Bruce Post 1146 Commander Randell J. Shafer, the ceremony paid tribute to Gold Star Families, including the Okrays, and included a 21-gun salute and music from the St. Clair Shores Community Chorus.

“I know we live in a special city, St. Clair Shores,” Shafer said. “The VFW takes nothing for granted.”