Groveland banners honor city’s fallen military heroes

The city of Groveland added new street banners to honor hometown veterans, including Ronald Gaffney. Photos provided by Groveland Historical Society

Several of Groveland’s military heroes have gained a new measure of immortality.

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 a veteran, his branch of service, and the date he died, a news release states. An eighth banner 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 paid for the brackets that attach the banners to utility poles and installed the banners Tuesday so they would be up for Memorial Day. The city is planning a Memorial Day program at 10am May 28 at Veterans Park in the courtyard in front of the E.L. Puryear Building, 243 S. Lake Ave. The public is invited to attend.

Four men featured on banners are World War II veterans: Lester Roberts Jr., 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 historical society member who spearheaded the project, says 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,” Mary Helen says in the release. “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 leads the city’s relations with veterans, supported the banners.

“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,” she says. “I believe all fallen heroes everywhere should be honored.”

The city of Groveland’s new street banners honor veterans such as Lester Roberts.

 

About the men featured on the Groveland memorial banners:

Specialist 5 Ronald Gaffney – Ronald, 21, was an Army Special Forces combat engineer on his third tour of duty in Vietnam. A member of the Green Berets, he was serving as part of a military assistance command 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.

Maria Ramirez, the mother of Sgt. Eric Ramirez, points proudly to her son’s banner.

Sgt. Eric Ramirez – Eric, 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 because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 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 Eric’s honor.

Sgt. Marvin “Lester” Roberts Jr. – Lester 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 1st Infantry Division, Company D, 16thRegiment, 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, Lester 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 – Edwin 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 it carried infantry fighters who parachuted behind enemy lines. At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, Edwin’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. Edwin, whose mother later married Groveland business titan J. Ray Arnold, was one of four Americans killed in action.

Radio Operator Earlie Story – Earlie, 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 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, Earlie had graduated from Groveland High School and worked at Edge’s Hardware Store. Relatives say his mother “grieved herself to death.” He is buried at Bay Lake Cemetery.

PFC Ray Tedder – Ray, 21, was a member of the 16th Infantry, 1st Division, which saw action throughout World War II. He enlisted in the Army in March 1943, and was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, landing at Omaha Beach. Ray survived heavy gunfire and minefields. His unit destroyed several enemy divisions as it pushed across Belgium and on to Germany, enduring one of the coldest winters on record. Ray 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 also is memorialized on a Czech Republic monument honoring the sacrifices of the American military.

Jess Thomas was one of the first Lake County casualties of the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Jess Thomas – Jess, 20, was a 1965 graduate of Groveland High School and the son of longtime Mascotte Mayor Fred Thomas. He served with the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, 4th Division 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. Jess 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.

The Groveland Historical Society was formed in 2007 with the mission of preserving the rich history of Groveland, and to found and maintain the Groveland Historical Museum in partnership with the city, the release states. For more information, visit grovelandhistory.org.

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