Graham County salutes veterans at July 4 Independence Day Parade

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: A parade entrant waves the U.S. flag during the July 4 Independence Day Parade in Downtown Safford.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – As we celebrate our Independence Day, we at the Gila Herald also want to take a special moment to honor all of the military veterans who make our freedom possible.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: WWII veteran Isidro Martinez, 93, was on hand for the festivities.

That theme was definitely on hand at the “Let Freedom Ring” July 4 Independence Day Parade down Main Street in Downtown Safford on Wednesday.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Lt. Kat Murphy with the Arizona Department of Corrections sings the National Anthem.

After a flag raising by the Gila Valley Honor Guard with the assistance of the Thatcher Fire Department and its ladder truck, Lt. Kat Murphy of the Arizona Department of Corrections gave a stunning rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Along with the Grand Marshal of the parade, Leverne Tinney, having served in WWII in the Navy on the USS Franklin Aircraft Carrier, in the parade audience sat 93-year-old WWII veteran of the Pacific Theater, Isidro Martinez.

Next to Martinez was Ray Ogas, who is a retired infantry member of the U.S. Marine Corps who saw combat in Afghanistan before heading to fight in the Iraq war during Operation Enduring Freedom. Ogas said when he was young he couldn’t wait to get out of Safford and see the world, and after doing so couldn’t get back to the Gila Valley fast enough.

“It’s good to be home,” Ogas said. “When you go around the world multiple times, and you actually come back home it just means that much more. You plant your feet and you don’t ever want to leave again.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Combat Marine veteran Ray Ogas holds his daughter, Isabella Ogas, 2, as the parade’s festivities wind down.

Ogas described his time in Afghanistan and Iraq and said he was with the initial ground force attack that was sent in when the war was declared to take over Iraq and capture Saddam Hussein.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman waves to the crowd.

After serving his country, Ogas returned to the Gila Valley and settled down with his wife and children.

“I planted my feet,” Ogas said. “I have my wife and my kids and that’s all that matters to me.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: This military-themed entry was a fan favorite.

Another military family – this one originally from Pima – was also on hand for the parade as the Gifford family of Taylor, Shenae, and their 10-month-old daughter, Kambria, enjoyed the festivities.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Army mechanic Taylor Gifford, left, holds his daughter, Kambria Gifford, 10 months, alongside his wife, Shenae Gifford. While the Giffords loved the parade, their favorite part of the holiday is the fireworks at night.

Taylor Gifford serves as a mechanic in the Army and is currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, which is home of the 1st Infantry Division.

Taylor and Shenae both graduated from Pima High School and were visiting for the holiday. While they enjoyed the parade, they said their favorite part would come at dusk with the annual fireworks show.

“That’s always the best when you’re under the fireworks and the boom goes through your chest,” Shenae said. “That’s the best time.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: This bicyclist shows off his spirit.

While Taylor said there is no shortage of work for him as a mechanic in the Army, he looks forward to bringing his family back to the Gila Valley to put down their roots after he finishes the last two years of his service.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Marine veteran Safford Vice Mayor Richard Ortega walks the parade route.

Many other military veterans were spotted throughout the crowd and parade, including, of course, retired Marine Vice Mayor Richard Ortega and others.

The family-friendly event that had government officials and businesses joining to parade down Main Street and hand out refreshments and candy to the children along the route came to its usual close with the Safford Fire truck’s entry. Then, it was off for cookouts and more family gatherings as many awaited the fireworks show to take place that night.

To all of our military families, the Gila Herald thanks you for your service and wishes everyone a blessed Independence Day.

Click here to view a photo album of parade pictures.