MEDINA — When Maj. Andy Hascher was growing up, Memorial Day meant a day at the pool and later a barbecue at home with his family.
After several tours of duty in the Army, the foreign area officer’s thoughts have changed.
Hascher, a 2003 graduate of Medina High School, was the guest speaker Monday at the Memorial Day program before several hundred people at Spring Grove Cemetery.
“Memorial Day took on a different meaning for me in 2002,” he said. “I had made the decision to join the military following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in my final year of high school.”
He then joined the ranks of millions of men and women in the military. He entered the Army through the ROTC program at Bowling Green State University and went to active duty in February 2008.
After completion of his training, he was assigned to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and eventually deployed to Iraq in 2008 and 2009 and later Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.
“Only after experiencing combat did my understanding of Memorial Day evolve to what it is today — a solemn day of real remembrance of those lost in wartime.”
The 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division was his unit for both of his combat deployments.
Hascher is attending Ohio State University and working on his master’s in international relations. He said his brigade lost 12 soldiers in Iraq and 21 in Afghanistan.
“Each one was a tragic and painful loss,” Hascher said.
Whenever one of the soldiers were being sent home in a coffin, hundreds would gather at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan for a “ramp” ceremony. The fallen soldier’s body would be transferred from a vehicle to a ramp of an aircraft to be transported home.
“I remember often being overcome with emotion at these ceremonies, even when we lined up to honor a soldier I had never met personally before,” he said. “Attending one ramp ceremony is too many.”
While talking to his father, he mentioned that he might need some socks and underwear while he was in the Middle East.
“I was sent a small mountain of flat rate USPS boxes (with) several hundred pairs of socks and underwear,” Hascher said.
He started filling gallon-size Ziploc bags with the items, along with some candy, and giving them to other soldiers. He also gave some to Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints, which built up some good will.
They informed him what areas and roads to avoid due to IEDs.
“In a way, I credit the generosity of the people of my hometown for contributing to keeping both me and my soldiers safe,” he said. “I am eternally grateful that I ever had to send home a soldier that I personally commanded home in a ramp ceremony.”
Hascher also gave some tips on how he’d honor the sacrifices of fallen warriors.
“Live with a sense of gratitude on a daily basis,” he said. “Be a good American. Strive to make America a country worth dying for.”
Ray Hewitt, U.S. Army veteran, was commander of the day. He was the guest speaker last year when he spoke of his time in Dachau, Germany, site of the Nazi death camps in World War II.
Claire Schmeller, of Medina High School, read the Gettysburg Address.
Cal Bias, U.S. Army Korean War veteran, was the honorary parade marshal.
The parade started in front of the Medina County Courthouse and proceeded to the cemetery. Organizers figured about 2,000 people watched the parade and ceremony at the cemetery.