RICHMOND — An extensive parade flanked by sidewalks lined with spectators; reflections on the actual cost of freedom; a reminder of how to serve your country without ever donning a uniform; and a military flyover combined to make Richmond’s Memorial Day observance a federal holiday not taken lightly by its townspeople.
‘Celebrate, Honor, Remember’ was the theme of Monday’s parade organized by the Richmond Community Historical Society, an effort that was applauded at Richmond Union Cemetery where JO Henry, commander of the Richmond American Legion Post 740, Honored Seven, served as master of ceremonies.
Henry welcomed the crowd and expressed appreciation for several organizations that had helped place flags on the graves of veterans, including Boy Scout Troop 20, Lighthouse Global Law Firm, Squadron 740 Sons of the American Legion and post members themselves.
Mark and Gina of Richmond were saluted as parade grand marshals. Mark is a former village councilman and served two consecutive terms as mayor of Richmond, beginning in 1992 when he was the village’s youngest mayor ever elected. An accomplished artist with many honors to her credit, Gina was an art teacher in the Indian Creek School District for 30 years before her retirement and is vice president of the Steubenville Art Association. They have two daughters, Mrs. Bobby (Kimberly) Sherretts and Stephanie Judy.
In addressing the cemetery audience, Mark noted all citizens have a role to play in the nation’s defense.
“We must all do our best to build strong families and strong communities. Step up and serve your country by serving your community. Help coach a ball team. Join the Lions Club. Volunteer for the fire department. We can all strive to make this country a better and stronger place, ” he said.
“Most importantly — most importantly — exercise your right to vote, inform yourself of the issues facing your country, understand how our country works and be part of the government of the people and by the people,” he urged. “We owe a debt of honor to the men and women who gave their all, their last full measure so that we may enjoy the freedoms that we do today. We must do our best to keep this nation strong so that some day when some of the young people here may be standing in a military recruiter’s office, deciding is this worth the risk, we here will have participated in that answer, ” Mark added.
Featured speaker Kasen Arnold, a 2015 graduate of Edison High School and two-year member of the Richmond Legion, is an Army sergeant who transferred to the National Guard in Pennsylvania. He served two tours of duty in Kuwait and Iraq.
Arnold began by offering definitions of Memorial Day, that it is “A federal holiday for mourning personnel who have died while serving in any branch of the United States Armed Forces.”
By experience, Memorial Day, he said, is “A day that service members look to their left and right and remember the brothers and sisters who are no longer standing next to them.”
It is not, however, a day of sadness or anger, according to Arnold, “But instead it is meant to be a day of thankfulness, of sacrifice and remembrance of the more than 1.3 million lives lost.”
Arnold noted how “Freedom is not free” is a saying that’s engraved onto the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, by retired US Air Force Col. Walter Hitchcock.
“The actual cost of freedom are the risks taken and lives sacrificed in order to preserve our way of life as we know it,” he said.
“Every day service members put on their uniforms, lace up their boots, leave their homes, personal lives, families and friends in order to protect and defend our way of life. These men and women live by our warrior ethos to the utmost degree, ” Arnold said, noting that thereby “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Many of those individuals didn’t come, among them Pvt. George Watson.
“On the morning of March 8, 1943, Pvt. George Watson gave the ultimate sacrifice. He was aboard the Dutch Steamer Jacob, which was moored at Porloch Harbor on the island of New Guinea,” Arnold said.
“The Birmingham, Ala., Native graduated from the Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1942 and entered the US Army through the draft at age 28. He was assigned to the 29th Quartermaster Regiment, 2nd Battalion, which deployed to the Pacific theater shortly after Watson finished training. He worked in logistics, ” Arnold said.
“On that fateful March morning, Japanese bombers rained fire upon the ship, catching the Americans off guard. The ship was abandoned, with many of its crewmembers jumping overboard in a last-ditch attempt to survive the onslaught.
“Private Watson was among them, though he did not leave the ship to save his own life. According to his Medal of Honor citation,’instead of seeking to save himself,’ Watson’remained in the water assisting several soldiers who could not swim. to reach the safety of the raft.’Watson saved the lives of’several comrades,’ ” Arnold told the audience.
“Exhausted from his heroic efforts, Watson drowned that day. His actions earned him the Army’s second-highest award — the Distinguished Service Cross,” he said.
According to his citation, Watson’s “Extraordinarily valorous actions, daring leadership and self-sacrificing devotion to his fellow man exemplify the finest traditions of military service.”
Arnold described Watson as “A complete reflection of what it means to live by the warrior ethos.”
“We, as service members, all know the risks associated with what we do. But we don’t do it for praise. We don’t do it for glory. We serve because we’re proud of this nation, and we’ re honored to carry the tradition on from those before us, ” he said.
“So, on this Memorial Day, while you’re spending time with your loved ones, remember those who cannot. Remember those who have come before us and remember their sacrifices. Ensure to those who made this choice, that their actions were not and will never be in vain. Never stop telling their stories. Never stop saying their names, ” Arnold said.
Monday’s ceremony included Laurel Kemp, daughter of Grant and Cindy Kemp, reciting the Gettysburg Address, and Jayne Cooper, 9, daughter of Brian and Heather Cooper, serving as wreath carrier.
Edison High School’s band, under the direction of Marc Sansone, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
A 21-gun salute toward the ceremony’s end included taps performed by Sean Lyons, followed shortly subsequently by a military flyover of a C-17 (cargo plane).
The Rev. Byron Bufkin, pastor of Richmond United Methodist Church, gave the invocation an benediction.