The Groveland Historical Society and city leaders have joined together to honor hometown veterans who died while serving their country by featuring them on banners along eastbound State Road 50.
Seven banners, 30 inches by 84 inches, include a patriotic stars-and-stripes design, a photo of each of the men who were killed serving America, their branch of service and the dates they died. There’s an eighth banner that includes all of the men’s images and the words: “Local Heroes Who Gave all for Our Country.”
The historical society donated the banners, which cost about $1,200. The City of Groveland paid for the brackets that attach the banners to the utility poles and installed the banners on Tuesday so they would be up for Memorial Day.
Four men featured on the banners are World War II veterans: Lester Roberts, Ed Sibley, Earlie Story and Ray Tedder. Two served in Vietnam: Ronald Gaffney and Jess Thomas. One veteran, Eric Ramirez, was killed while serving in Iraq.
Mary Helen Myers, a member of the historical society, said her organization got the idea from one of the museum’s supporters, who had seen memorial banners in another city.
“All the members thought it was a wonderful idea, but some weren’t sure if we could get them in time for Memorial Day,” said Myers, who spearheaded the project. “With the cooperation of the City, and the help of a local printer, they are now on display, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Mayor Dina Sweatt, who spearheads the city’s relations with veterans, supported the banners and said, “I think the banners for our hometown heroes is a wonderful idea, and I thank the City of Groveland for their part in getting this done. I believe all fallen heroes everywhere should be honored.”
Sweatt said the city is planning a Memorial Day program at the city’s Veterans Park in the courtyard in front of the E.L. Puryear Building, 243 S. Lake Ave., on May 28, at 10 a.m. The public is invited to attend.
The City of Groveland added the new banners to its downtown on Tuesday. The banners honor hometown veterans who were killed in action.
World War II veterans: Lester Roberts, Ed Sibley, Earlie Story and Ray Tedder.
Sgt. Marvin “Lester” Roberts Jr.
Roberts graduated from Groveland High School in 1942 and married his high-school sweetheart before he entered the Army in 1943. He was a machine gunner in the 1stInfantry Division, Company D, 16th Regiment when he was part of the third wave that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. His unit went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. On Jan. 15, 1945, during that battle, Roberts was killed along with an estimated 19,000 Americans. He was laid to rest at the U.S. Military Cemetery in Belgium but was later brought to Groveland for a final burial in 1947. He was highly decorated, receiving the Bronze Star, Silver Service Star, two presidential citations and the Purple Heart. A highway was dedicated to honor his sacrifice.
1st Lt. Edwin Sibley
Sibley graduated from Groveland High School in 1938 before entering the Army Air Corps where he served as a pilot with the 90th Squadron, 438th Troop Carrier Group. His group earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for its role on D-Day when they carried infantry fighters who parachuted behind enemy lines. At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, Sibley’s C-47 Skytrain plane failed to return from crossing the English Channel on Dec. 3, 1944, as the crew approached the French coast during icy conditions. The plane crashed 15 miles southeast of Saint-Valery-en-Caux. Sibley, whose mother later married Groveland business titan J. Ray Arnold, was one of four Americans killed in action.
Radio Operator Earlie Story
Story, 20, graduated from Groveland High School in 1941 before he served as a radio operator with the Navy, attached to Torpedo Squadron 301. He died while on a training mission in a fighter plane off the New England coast. A certificate from President Franklin Roosevelt states: “Earlie Lee Story died in the service of his country at sea off Nantucket Island, attached Torpedo Squadron – 301, 18 April 1944.” Before joining the Navy on June 30, 1942, Story had graduated from Groveland High School and worked at Edge’s Hardware Store. Relatives say Story’s mother “grieved herself to death.” Story is buried at Bay Lake Cemetery.
PFC Ray Tedder
Tedder, 21, was a member of the 16th Infantry, 1st Division, which saw action throughout World War II. Tedder enlisted in the Army in March, 1943. He was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, landing at Omaha Beach. Tedder survived heavy gunfire and mine fields. His unit destroyed several enemy divisions as they pushed across Belgium and on to Germany, enduring one of the coldest winters on record. Tedder was killed near Berlin on April 14, 1945, just days before action ceased. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. The Mascotte Civic Center is named in his and another veteran’s honor. He is also memorialized on a Czech Republic monument honoring the sacrifices of the American military.
Vietnam Veterans: Ronald Gaffney and Jess Thomas
Specialist 5 Ronald Gaffney
Gaffney, 21, was an Army Special Forces combat engineer on his third tour of duty in Vietnam. A member of the Green Beret, he was serving as part of a MACV team advising the South Vietnamese Army on Feb. 19, 1965, when he died immediately from gunfire while rescuing two wounded soldiers in the Phu Yen Province of South Vietnam. He graduated from Groveland High School in 1961. Groveland’s first dog park and a highway are named in his honor.
Sgt. Jess Thomas
Thomas, 20, was a 1965 graduate of Groveland High School. He was the son of longtime Mascotte Mayor Fred Thomas. He served with the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, 4thDivision of the Army while stationed in Vietnam. He was within a few weeks of returning home, when on Feb. 9, 1968, he was on a mission that came under heavy fire. His unit suffered casualties. Thomas charged enemy bunkers before he was mortally wounded. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Presidential Military Merit Medal. The Mascotte civic center is named in his and a fellow veteran’s honor, and a portion of Highway 50 is named in his honor.
Eric Ramirez was killed while serving in Iraq.
Sgt. Eric Ramirez
Ramirez, 31, was assigned to the 670th Military Police Company, Army National Guard serving in Abu Ghrab, Iraq, when he died Feb. 12, 2004, after coming under attack by gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives that blew through the vehicle he was driving. He had joined the National Guard in 2000 to prepare for a career in law enforcement, after serving in the Navy in the 1990s. His stint was about to end in 2001 when his commitment was extended due to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. He was just weeks away from returning to his wife and two young children. His father is Felix Ramirez, the longtime pastor of La Primera Iglesia Bautista de Mascotte. A highway was named in Sgt. Ramirez’s honor.