Solemn memorials were held across Madison County, honoring fallen soldiers from every community and every conflict.
Memorial Day commemorations took place all day Monday, many within the county’s cemeteries or near memorials commemorating soldiers who died during wars waged during the county’s 207 year history.
London’s commemorations began at Oak Hill Cemetery, where the local American Legion branch, Post 105 and the London High School band held a short ceremony next to Soldier’s Circle, a century-old monument recognizing London’s fallen union soldiers from the civil war.
An hour later, at least 100 people gathered at the Madison County Courthouse’s Veterans memorial, joining with Post 105 as well as Amvets Chapter 19, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 93 and Vietnam Veterans Chapter 746.
Jennifer Moore, Madison County’s veterans service officer, reflected on America’s soldiers and the meaning behind Memorial Day.
“Thinking of the heroes who join us in this group today and those who are here only in spirit, a person can’t help but feel awe of the enormity of what we encounter,” said Moore. “We stand in the midst of patriots and with the family of friends of those who have nobly served.”
She also noted the sacrifice these men and women made, often for a cause they may both have fully understood but still carried out their duty with honor.
“Many of them didn’t ask to leave their homes to fight on distant battlefields,” she said. “Many didn’t even volunteer. They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to do something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways.”
The London High School band played classic American patriotic marches while wreathes were placed on the monument, which has the name of every Madison County Soldier killed in action named on it.
Among the scores whose names are engraved on the polished stone, Ed Theil remembers his son, Army Specialist Fourth Class John Theil.
John served for eight months in Vietnam, according to his brother Raymond. The 20-year-old draftee earned three purple hearts and was offered the Army Commendation medal, which he turned down.
“There was sense of bravery and duty John had,” said Raymond. “He served as the radio man, who was usually the first guy to get shot. John volunteered, knowing full well what could happen.”
While serving in Phuoc Long Province, a strategically key area which lay just 75 miles north of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, John was killed by shrapnel from a bomb.
Posthumously, he was awarded the bronze and silver stars, as well as the commendation medal he turned down.
Linda, John’s sister, said their father has attended every Memorial Day ceremony in London since then, rain or shine, in all forms of health.
The day began a little less solemn in West Jefferson as American Legion Post 201 held a free breakfast for the county’s veterans as well as their families, a tradition going back more than 50 years.
At noon, at least 60 West Jefferson residents joined together at Pleasant Hill Cemetery on U.S. Route 40, where veterans also remembered their service as well the example of those before them.
Local priest and former military chaplain, Father Pat Toner, spoke to those in attendance. He reflected on the thoughtful and introspective nature of the holiday for all Americans, but also how his predecessors inspired he and his fellow soldier’s own service.
“When a general prepares for war, he looks back at history to learn from those who have gone before, so that you don’t repeat those mistakes,” he said. “But you build upon their successes. A good commander always looks for examples of heroism to lift up and inspire the troops.”
Past acts of heroism were certainly an inspiration to him. He recalled his own service as the Catholic chaplain in Kosovo during America’s involvement in the Yugoslav wars. The local media had contacted him, asking if he was nervous.
“They ask the typical questions, are you afraid? Are you anxious?” he said. “I had been in Vietnam and I has served in Desert Storm, of the two wars under my belt I couldn’t be too anxious. But I said ‘yes I am.’ I am afraid I may not live up to the reputation to those who have worn this uniform before me.”
All of the events kept the West Jefferson post busy, but this didn’t deter former post commander Jim Saunders. A veteran from both the Marine Corps and the Navy, Saunders recalled his service during the Korean War repairing tanks at the Marine base in Barstow, California.
He and his unit would repair tanks from the front against the North Korean military and their Chinese and Soviet allies as well as from a nearby army training facility.
Saunders said he remembered the California sand clogging up the engines, putting more work on a beleaguered staff serving a war zone and those about to be sent into it. They had people working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We got through that, we can get through anything!” he said.
Other events in honor of Memorial Day occurred as well. In Plain City, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Darby Post 3268 and American Legion Post 248 organized an early morning parade. Colonel Holly C. Mitchell a commander from the 121st Mission Support Group (MSG), Ohio Air National Guard spoke at the event.
South Solon also held a parade in the afternoon, led by the Springfield Detachment of the Marine Corp League, followed by the Madison-Plains Marching Band, led by Renee Perkins Hostetler.
Those interested in supporting America’s veterans in honor of the holiday can donate to the Veterans of Foreign Wars at vfw.org/Contribute or the American Legion at legion.org/donate.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, or on Twitter @msfkwiat.