MEDINA — Ray Hewitt, former U.S. Army sergeant in the military police, saw things at a former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, that he’ll never forget.
He guarded U.S. soldiers who were being held at the military police complex inside the former camp in the 1960s while they awaited trial.
The stockade was behind a museum in Dachau where unthinkable things had happened to thousands of people deemed dissidents, who were considered “enemies of the state” to the Nazis, he said.
“The air was thick with mind-numbing images,” said Hewitt, an honor guard captain at American Legion Post 202 in Medina and the keynote speaker Monday during the Memorial Day program at Spring Grove Cemetery.
Hewitt spent 13 months working in what many had termed a Nazi death camp. Hewitt quoted figures from the U.S. Seventh Army’s final report that a total of 29,138 Jews were brought to Dachau from other camps in 1944. They were executed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms and also in four smaller gas chambers, described as disinfection rooms.
The report said 16,717 non-Jewish prisoners, among them priests and nuns, were executed between 1940 and 1945.
“The veterans standing and sitting her today at this ceremony all have their own stories,” Hewitt said to the audience of about 1,000 people. “This is my story.”
He said he saw the crematorium, whipping tables, the wooden posts where German leader Adolf Hitler’s guards hung prisoners and holes in the walls where prisoners were shot.
The detention barracks were designed to hold about 400 prisoners, he said, but the Nazis had jammed as many as 4,000 into the barracks.
Hewitt said the Seventh Army liberated the camp April 29, 1945, but overcrowding at the camps had led to the spread of contagious diseases. In the last four months of World War II, there were 13,158 recorded deaths from diseases. Thousands more died in the coming months, he said.
“They just couldn’t be saved,” Hewitt said.
During the annual parade, which started in the Square and ended at Spring Grove Cemetery, Medina County’s bicentennial bell was on display publicly for the first time. Medina County Treasurer John A. Burke dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform, complete with a musket, and accompanied the bell in the parade.
Ted Chandler, a World War II U.S. Army combat veteran, served as honorary parade marshal. Dave Taylor, U.S. Army combat veteran in Vietnam, was the commander of the day. He introduced the speakers at Spring Grove Cemetery.
Chris Streeper, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, was chaplain for the program.
“Today is a day to remember those who gave their lives for their country,” he said. “We live in a world where our way of life is being challenged.”
Honor guard members fired their rifles in salute and played taps to pay solemn tribute to fallen American soldiers, sailors and Marines.
During Hewitt’s speech, he appealed to those in the audience, especially the younger crowd.
“I want you to know that you are blessed; blessed to be living in a town like Medina, Ohio, and blessed to be a citizen of the greatest country in the world,” Hewitt said.
“It’s up to you to remember the lessons of Dachau, of man’s inhumanity to man. Thank a veteran whenever you see one, for helping to keep us free and end tyranny such as what we saw in World War II. Take advantage of the freedom provided to you from veterans and decide how you can use that freedom here in Medina to help make human life more human.”’