FROM STAFF REPORTS
Residents across Ashtabula County shrugged off winter-like weather Monday to salute the area’s military veterans.
Rain didn’t dampen Veterans’ Day ceremonies, but strong, cold winds put some extra snap into flags and prompted spectators to huddle inside parkas. Here’s a look at some of the local ceremonies:
The Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Park honored the country’s veterans under cloudy skies and a chilly 45 degrees Monday.
Hector Martinez played the “Call to Colors” and Lakeside High School junior Cassie Dunn, 16, sang the National Anthem. The Rev. Michael Meranda from Messiah Lutheran Church said an opening prayer.
The Rev. Robert Leonard, a Marine Corps League member, said it was a special day because not only was it Veterans Day, but also Martinez’s 86th birthday. The 50 or so people in attendance applauded Martinez.
Leonard then spoke on “Words from the Grave,” a short talk about all veterans’ beliefs. He also pointed out that all of the World War I veterans have “gone to their final rest” on this Veterans Day, and vowed, “We won’t let (World War I) be a fading memory.”
Cassie sang “America the Beautiful” and Meranda closed the ceremony with a prayer for peace.
The Honor Guard consisted of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 943 and American Legion Post 103 members.
In the Buckeye Local School District, several veterans spoke at Ridgeview Elementary School, including World War II veteran John Pildner, 87, of Ashtabula, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge — one of the bloodiest battles the United States was involved in during the war.
Pildner served in the U.S. Infantry Anti-Tank Company 290th. Their job was to sweep for mines and disarm the mines. It was an exceptionally snowy winter and very cold, he said.
“We lost 300 men taking just one hill,” he said.
Since the war, Pildner has been recognized for his bravery, and along the way, he even raised the American flag on the USS Arizona on Jan. 22, 2011. But now, the French people have let the soldiers know their sacrifices are appreciated.
Pildner recently was honored with France’s highest military award, the Legion of Honor. The French and American soldiers fought side-by-side from the trenches of Champagne to the beaches of Normandy.
Students at Ridgeview invited Pildner to come back to talk on Friday.
Tridia Hospice hosted a special recognition luncheon for resident veterans of Austinburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Monday.
Some 18 residents were honored during the luncheon receiving a certificate and lapel pin.
Among the veterans honored was Brooks Wright. Brooks received special recognition Monday. He was presented with his Army Good Conduct Medal, Marksmanship Badge and Mechanics Badge.
Certificates were presented by Tracy Johnson, U.S. Navy Veteran, Tim Dibble, U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Disabled American Veterans, and Tom Lucas Jr., U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Ashtabula County Veteran Service Commission.
Veterans honored were: Sherwood Swick, Rene Levesque, Rodney Young, Andrew Dragon, John King, Norman D’Agostino, Archie MacMillian, Paul Nizen, Dwayne Clark, Billy Hipps, Lawrence Hayes, Henry Jason, Wallace Drake, Floyd Hurley, Claude “Brooks” Wright, Stanley Wojcik, Peter Feddish and Stanford Rohrig.
“Let us not forget,” Armand Carlucci, a World War II veteran, said repeatedly at Conneaut’s ceremony, held at the veterans’ memorial adjacent to City Hall.
Carlucci, who served in the Pacific theater, was the ceremony’s guest speaker. He mentioned many of the Conneaut residents who died in conflicts over the decades, including brothers James and William Lord Jr., both killed in World War II. Carlucci said he couldn’t image the anguish of parents received two of the “dreaded telegrams.”
He also spoke of Joseph Guarino, a WW II paratrooper killed in combat. Carlucci said he recalled seeing Guarino’s “heartbroken” mother crying over her son’s grave at St. Joseph Cemetery.
“I was lucky,” Carlucci said. “I returned. But a lot did not.”
An estimated crowd of 50 people also heard veteran Michelle Hall provide a definition of a veteran (someone who writes a check redeemable “up to and including their lives”); Rick Gleason, who shared the veterans’ oath; and Nicholas Church, who read a piece entitled “It Is The Soldier.”
“It is the soldier, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag,” Church said.
Chris Brecht read a community “thank you” to local veterans, whom he dubbed role-models and heroes.
“If people say there are no heroes, they are looking for them in the wrong places,” he said. “They sit across the kitchen table from us. They have given so much and have been given so little.”
Wreaths were laid at the base of the memorial by a handful of veterans. Also participating in the observance was the Conneaut High School Marching Band and honor and color guards from the city’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Richard Gleason served as master of ceremonies.
A flag retirement ceremony was held immediately after the City Hall event at Conneaut’s American Legion Hall.
More than 30 people gathered at the George Call American Legion Post 124 to remember those who have served their country; and some whom never came home.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill came home to share his thoughts on three generations of military service.
“My father (Howard O’Neill) was a real liberal. He gave me the choice of which service to join,” O’Neill said with a laugh while sharing the story of how he joined the Vietnam-era Army in 1967. He eventually served a year in Vietnam and returned to the United States where he became a lawyer, elected official and eventually a justice.
O’Neill reflected on his father’s experience as an airman in 1942. “The first time I saw the Atlantic Ocean they asked me to fly over it,” O’Neill said, quoting his father as he prepared to fly from Florida to Europe.
He said his father participated in the attack on the Polesti oil fields in 1943 and Bill O’Neill’s son eventually joined the same unit.
Geneva attorney Tom Brown, whose father and children are veterans with experience on the war front, introduced his long-time friend.
“Bill and I actually met in 1967. We took a road trip to Fort Benning for basic training,” he said of the trip the ROTC officers experienced after college at Ohio University.
O’Neill said the “citizen soldier” has been an integral part of the American experience from the Battle of Lexington, to Inchon to Afghanistan.
“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in defense of their country,” he said of the attitude that has kept our nation free.
In April of 1775 there was a bit of skirmish at Lexington, MA., that O’Neill said changed the course of history. “In an instant they were transformed into Revolutionary War Soldiers,” he said.
After the ceremony an honor squad fired a volley of shots and several trumpeters played “Taps” as people gathered on the steps of the post.
Local veterans, students and members of the community braved the cold temperatures Monday to celebrate Veteran’s Day and honor the men and women who have served our country.
Several Vietnam veterans were among those in attendance at Monday’s ceremony. Durward Newhard, who organizes the event each year, asked the students to welcome those veterans by shouting “Welcome home Vietnam veterans.”
State Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) addressed the students in attendance as well stressing the importance of remembering veterans, not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day.
“We can never forget what these gentlemen have sacrificed for us,” he said. “It is our duty to continue the American dream that they sacrificed for.”
Joshua Inks, who served in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant aboard Destroyer U.S. Barry and Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. George Washington.
Inks said before he joined the Navy, he was always confused by Veteran’s Day.
“Veterans are among us now in greater numbers than they have been in decades,” he said.
He said most people recognize veterans of those men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, but tend to forget about those who are currently serving.
“It’s easy to forget now that many are coming home,” he said. “They continue to make sacrifices every day.”
Inks said from the first day of basic training, the men and women who are serving, or have served in the military, are stripped of many of the liberties that most of us take for granted.
“But ask anyone in the military and they will tell you the most difficult task is being away from their families for extended periods of time,” he said.
Inks said in the current political climate, the Armed Forces is on of those jobs that isn’t political.
“No matter who our president is or who is in Congress, we all honor that oath to defend the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “There is much more to the Armed Forces than marching and carrying a gun.”
Staff writers Warren Dillaway, Stacy Millberg, Shelley Terry and Mark Todd contributed to this article.