Each year, the Fall Festival begins on the second Saturday in September with a kick off parade. This year, the parade falls on Sept. 11, the anniversary of one of the most horrific days in American history.
This year’s parade is dedicated to the many emergency responders who answered the call when the Twin Towers went down that September day. More importantly, it will honor those who give unselfishly of themselves in the armed forces fighting the war on terror.
And while the parade is dedicated to all of the men and women who serve this county, Staff Sgt. Michael “Chad” Lloyd will be remembered for the sacrifice he and another member of the 4th Infantry Division, 110th Calvary, paid on Aug. 12, 2006, in Iraq — they gave their lives.
Staff Sgt. Chad Lloyd’s father and stepmother, Jim and Dena Lloyd of Sulphur Springs, will lead off the parade as grand marshals in memory of the shy, quiet man who helped lead his unit during two tours in Iraq.
Jim Lloyd said he was humbled when he and Dena were asked to be parade marshals on 9/11 in honor of Chad.
“There were two reasons we agreed — to honor Chad and the other soldiers and to say thank you to Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County for the tremendous support they showed us after Chad was killed,” Mr. Lloyd said. “They’ve been wonderful. Sulphur Springs is awesome.”
“We want to keep his legacy alive,” Dena said. “On Sept. 11, 2001, a lot of people were killed. In a way, Chad was another victim of 9/11. When it happened, 9/11 was when the war on terrorism really got started. Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan — it all goes back to 9/11. He wasn’t a direct victim but a spin-off. We remember Chad every day. Saturday we want to honor not just Chad but all who have been lost, those who didn’t come back to all of us, those who did and were injured, all who served.”
The Lloyds are understandably proud of Chad and his service, his dedication to fighting terrorists and defending freedom. Dena often wears a pair of beaded bracelets, the type now sold by Iraqi women who had no freedoms, much less the right to sell wares, before the war. Chad and his unit helped achieve that, making their way through streets so covered in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they couldn’t travel the same path twice when they first arrived.
Chad Lloyd, also the son of Margaret Lloyd of Corpus Christi, joined the Army in 2000 after graduating from high school in Corpus Christi. In a little over five years, he achieved the rank of staff sergeant with the 4th Infantry Division, 110th Calvary.
“He wanted to better himself. At the time, we were shocked he was joining. It turned out he loved it,” Jim said, showing a photo of a smiling Chad taken the day before his death. “We’re very proud.”
Dena explained that the Army gave Chad the direction he needed.
“Chad was a leader in the Army,” Dena said proudly of her stepson. “If you knew him, he was a shy quiet person, the last to speak in a room full of people.”
Chad was serving in Southern Baghdad on a Saturday in one of the “hottest” places when an IED in a canyon took him away from his family, which includes his now 7-year-old son, J.T., and wife, Jessica, who moved two weeks ago to Fort Bragg, N.C., following her third tour in Iraq with the 82nd Air Brigade.
“Every day they went out they hit an IED,” Jim said. “They tried to keep the airport road and Baghdad clear. Insurgents were everywhere. It was a Saturday around 9 in the morning Baghdad time. One of the humvees was hit by an IED. They had to airlift soldiers. When that happened they had to set up a perimeter, try to find from where it was set.”
Chad and another officer, Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Zeigler, 31, found the wire and opted to have the other men under them stay back as they began tracking the wire for the IED to its source.
“They were they most experienced,” said Jim, explaining what the lieutenant colonel had told them about that tragic day at a memorial service at Fort Hood. “They could have called a private to do it, but he had them stay back. They were on foot and fell into a canal. Either one of them got on it or insurgents set it off — they could use cell phones to set them off. They were killed instantly.”
In July, the lieutenant colonel told Jim Lloyd that thanks to his son’s sacrifice, things are significantly different in Iraq.
“It’s totally different. People are on the street. The markets are open. Kids are going to school,” Jim said.
Jim recalled phone calls from Chad in 2006 that hinted at the horrors of war. In one call, he talked of another unit that had been hit by an IED. Chad’s unit was called to help.
“He said, ‘It was really bad.’ He pulled a soldier out. It was so bad he didn’t recognize him. He looked at the tag and it was his friend,” Jim noted of the conversation.
Another time, Chad called Jim because he needed to talk. He told his dad his unit had gone through a village where they’d been shot at and IEDs were set off practically everywhere as they passed. He and a few other men were scheduled to double back on a special mission to try to track insurgents that night and “get ’em.” Jim said when Chad returned home in March 2006 for two weeks, he could only smile when his dad asked him if the mission had been successful. Chad didn’t directly say what the outcome was, but the smile on his face said it all. Dena said they knew from the look on Chad’s face that “he accomplished the mission.”
Jim noted that most veterans won’t talk about combat, largely because of the horrors they’ve seen and experienced, things they often don’t have time in the field to emotionally deal with. He said people should honor that service and acknowledge that freedoms are bought with that service. He also reminds others to never forget how many have been injured, losing limbs or suffering other debilitating injuries to pay for our freedoms.
“I don’t know that I could do it,” Jim noted of the many difficult tasks armed forces personnel perform. “It says a lot for our military that they’re all volunteer, dedicated, laying their life down. They are gone so long, and it doesn’t pay all that well. It says a lot.”
The Lloyds were sent a video of the memorial service Chad’s unit held the Monday after his death in Iraq. Chad was described as having “nocturnal eyes” and a “sixth sense,” almost always knowing just how to move to avoid IEDs. He seemed to also know just when the soldier “watching” during a night operation began to feel his eyes flutter from exhaustion, Chad would call out to rouse him and remind him how important it was to keep watch.
The Lloyds still keep in touch with the men in Chad’s unit. They also attend various military functions and noted how supportive the military has continued to be toward the family since Chad’s death.
“We’ve learned a lot about grief in the last four years,” said Jim. “At first you’re in a state of shock — you can’t imagine, especially when it’s your child. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. What has helped us through is our faith, church — the Sunday school class especially, family, grief support groups.”
“It’s something hard to explain,” Dena noted. “It’s like part of your heart was taken out. Chad was only 24.”
Jim now acts as a mentor through Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, working with two other men who have lost children to the war, one in Texas and one in Oregon. He calls and talks to them weekly. It helps the other men and himself in their various stages of grief to share with someone who is in a similar situation, to talk about the life of their child, remember the love and sharing their journey.
Dena works with Liz Etzkorn and For the Heart of a Child, a local grief support group for parents who have had children that died.
The Lloyds noted that they’ve learned parents want to talk about their deceased children, to keep their memory alive, their legacy. Most people don’t bring it up because they’re afraid it will upset the parent, but actually, especially for military families, they want to talk about their lost loved one every chance they get to keep their memory alive, Dena explained.
Local residents are urged to don red, white and blue and wave their flags along the parade route Saturday to show their patriotism, support of military personnel and to honor the memory of Chad Lloyd, others killed or injured in war and on 9/11, and the emergency personnel who responded on 9/11. The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday from Buford Park.
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