RITTMAN –– The Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery held its annual Memorial Day ceremony to honor the thousands of soldiers buried there as well as fallen military personnel across the nation.
“This is not a celebration for me,” said Bonnie Van Sickle, whose late husband, Howard, a Vietnam War veteran, is buried in the cemetery. “This a reminder of my husband who served in the United States Army. I’m just proud to be here.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke at the ceremony. He said he brought his daughter to the ceremony because it is important to teach young people about the sacrifices that veterans, both living and dead, have made.
He said soldiers die in battle for more than just the land, the physical property, of the United States; they do so to preserve the ideals that this country represents.
“The idea of America is worth dying for,” LaRose said.
Christine Runkle, a teacher and a Gold Star mother whose son, John, died while serving in Afghanistan, got to share her perspective on the sacrifices made by service men and women and their families.
She spoke about how John Runkle joined the Army after high school. Later, he graduated from West Point in the top 10 percent of his class before returning to active duty. He died May 26, 2011.
“It’s been eight years since I’ve heard my son’s voice. It’s been eight years since I’ve smelled the scent of my child,” Christine Runkle said.
Mark Polen, cemetery director at the Western Reserve National Cemetery, said the addition of Gold Star families to the ceremony has been important.
“I’m focusing more on Gold Star parents now because I believe the stories they tell are very important,” he said.
Mark Richardson, a host on Akron’s WNIR-FM, was the emcee for the ceremony and has done so several times. He puts a lot of research into his speeches and introductions.
“(Polen) asked me back in 2013 if I would be the emcee, and that was the first time I came out to do it,” Richardson said. “You must be prepared. You have to do it with honor.”
The day before the ceremony, volunteers placed American flags at gravesites to honor fallen military personnel and veterans.
“I think just the fact that they honor the men that gave their life and sacrificed their life in the service, and I think they should honor them. They should never be forgotten,” said Nora Wagner after the ceremony.
Polen, who is a veteran, hopes the ceremony helps people understand the sacrifices that fallen military members have made.
“The more people you see come out here for these ceremonies, the more I believe, at least in my heart, that they have an understanding as to why they’re here,” he said. “There’s always a debate on Memorial Day versus Veterans Day and, as I tell people who thank me for my service on Memorial Day, there’s no need to thank me, I’m still walking and talking.”