By ZAK GRIMM
“We gather here today to honor those whom have given us the freedom to stand here today,” said American Legion Post 500 Commander Dave Merrin, at the start of the annual Memorial Day ceremony on May 29, 2017. The event is held each year in Fredericktown on the Square and then led by a parade to Forest Cemetery, where community members gather to further honor and remember our fallen Freddies whom gave their lives in service to their country.
“Their selfless service tends to grow somewhat dim in the eyes of the average citizen, although their seems to be a quiet resurgence of patriotism,” Merrin added. “It is up to us to hold that memory aloft, and never let those heroes be forgotten.”
In honor of their fallen comrades and family members, representatives from the American Legion Post 500, American Legion Auxiliary and Gold Star Families each laid a commemorative wreath on the selected grave of a soldier. In January 2016, the community lost its only Gold Star Mother, Marjorie McMahon, and Carolyn Fearn laid the wreath to honor hometown heroes Buddy Fearn, Bob Carter, Bill McQueen, and Seamus Gore.
Honoring all those whom lost their lives for the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony was speaker and former 1976 Fredericktown graduate, Randy Ruhl, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. Ruhl began his career in service to his country in 1980, as a Second Lieutenant in the University of Toledo’s ROTC program. As he grew older and his military service became more extensive over 21 years in many different roles, Ruhl lived in Germany, spent time in Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia and Egypt. Ruhl finished his official service to the United States Army in 2001, as Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, and then as the Deputy G3 for the Army’s III Corps.
Currently, Ruhl serves as the Director of Mission Command Training for the US Army’s III Corps. In this role, he is responsible for all live, virtual, constructive and gaming-based training at Forts Hood, Carson, Riley, Bliss, Knox and Sill.
“I’m humbled to be among so many people who care so much about our country,” Ruhl said.
“I grew up here back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and what a great, peaceful, value-based place to live [it is]. Growing up here in this town instilled into me a value of hard work and love of country. Back then, Memorial Day meant putting on my Little League baseball uniform, and marching in the same parade down the same route that we all just came from. More importantly, it was the beginning of baseball season and the start of summer break.”
“Back then, I never thought much about what Memorial Day was, or why we had a parade, or why it ended in a cemetery,” said Ruhl. “The real meaning had never really soaked into me.”
“As a teenager I never slowed down enough to really think about the real meaning of Memorial Day, either. I do remember growing up seeing news clips of the Vietnam War, the Friday morning casualty reports on the Today Show, and a lot of anti-war protests and dissention across our great country. Living in a town like Fredericktown really sheltered me from those kinds of things.”
Ruhl said that after college, he joined the Army, and that’s when he began to truly realize the meaning of Memorial Day. “Memorial Day is a day like any other–since it was first celebrated in 1868, we’ve come together in our communities, towns and villages to place flowers and flags on the graves in remembrance of those whom have sacrificed and died in our nation’s service.”
“We come to cemeteries across our country, and we remember and honor those whom have done their duty as God has allowed them to see their duty,” he said.
Ruhl understands that Memorial Day isn’t a happy time, but that doesn’t mean that communities can’t have a good time. “For many, it’s a three-day weekend filled with barbecues and picnics, and for others it’s the beginning of summer.”
“For some, it’s a special day of significance,” he added. “It’s a special day to give thanks–when our citizens and veterans will gather to pay tribute and to remember America’s finest men and women whom have given their lives in defense of our freedom.”
Ruhl commented that America has had a proud and long history of individuals choosing to serve their country. “Freedom is our cause, freedom does not come free, and many have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “They truly deserve to be remembered. The America we know would not be the same if not for the men and women we honor on Memorial Day.”
He asked that everyone take time on Memorial Day to pause and reflect on what those men and women gave, so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
“It’s easy to sit back and casually support our military members,” said Ruhl. “But we must always remember, our life is only as good as what it’s tied to. Too often, we fail to remember those whom gave their lives, or whose lives today bear the scars as a lasting memory of that sacrifice and commitment to our country’s military.”
“We also pay tribute to the unsung heroes of our nation’s defense–our spouses, children, and family members of our nation’s military. They might not have worn our nation’s uniform, or carried a rifle on their shoulder, but they’ve carried the weight of worry. Through their personal sacrifice in times of war and peace, they too, have served our nation, and we salute all of you.”
In his own service to his country, Ruhl said he couldn’t begin to count the number of special days–birthdays, anniversaries, holidays–that he wasn’t a part of, and how hard that was for his family. For Ruhl, one of the hardest things he ever had to do while serving was to, one day, tell the family, namely the soldier’s youngest daughter, that her father wasn’t coming home.
“After their memorial service, I knelt down to talk to the three girls, and the youngest one wrapped her arms around my neck, and she looked at me and said, “When are you going to let my daddy come home?”
“It’s things like that that really solidify what Memorial Day really means. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that little girl and how her life must be harder, because her dad isn’t there to take care of her and make things right,” added Ruhl.
“It’s situations like this that happen all around our country, every time a member of our armed forces dies, whether it’s fighting in a war, a training accident or a traffic accident.” Ruhl said since 9/11, the US has lost nearly 8,000 military members fighting the war on terror, over 600 of which came from Fort Hood, Texas, where Ruhl works daily.
“The sadness is hard to see,” he said.
Ruhl commented on the challenge of seeing new young men and women take their first solemn oath to protect their country, not having the experiences and memories of the years of service that Ruhl has had, nor the personal hardships that they don’t yet have.
“But, their collective strength, courage and commitment, together with our compassion and support, help America endure in the face of hardship,” he said.
“Each of you veterans here today know fully what I mean–committing your life to something greater than yourself.”
Ruhl talked about the times he had to say goodbye to his sons as they left to serve their country, and how difficult it was both as a father and as one whom had served before them, knowing what could come. “The day we found out that our son was injured in Afghanistan was devastating. But, he was coming home. That’s what really mattered. He’s one of the lucky ones in his unit, as many of his friends did not make it home. He struggles with that every day of his life.”
“Why do our young people in this country continue to serve? I think Ronald Reagan summed it up best: ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it along to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed onto them to do the same, or one day, we will spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it was once like in the United States when men were free.”
“We’re a nation at risk–great risk–from threats you hear about like ISIS, North Korea, Russia, and Iran, to internal threats, like domestic terrorism. These are new and old threats, but one thing remains constant–that American men and women will be called upon to stand up and fight any enemy facing this great country, foreign or domestic.”
Ruhl asked those present to take time to look upon the veterans whom made it back home to Fredericktown.
“Look at what they are, what they’ve been, and what good they’ve done for our country in the cause of freedom around the world. Honor them and their comrades whose graves we visit today. Look to them for guidance for the present, and guidance for the future.”
“Our fallen heroes have left a legacy of freedom, and have taught their children and their children’s children the values of hard work and virtue–necessary conditions of freedom. Our fallen heroes are the reason we live in a privileged nation, where we get to sleep safely and soundly in our beds every night.”
“So what does Memorial Day now mean to me? It means we should stop and think about the sacrifices men and women have given to make this world a safer place for someone else. It’s a day we thank those who did not get the joyous homecoming, and have since been laid to rest. It’s a day we remember the heroes who gave everything for the soldier serving next to them, and the people they left behind.”
“No matter how you feel, how you live or how you vote, there’s no denying the sacrifices many have made so the rest of us can happily enjoy a three-day weekend.”
“Memorial Day isn’t only about thanking our veterans and missing those who are gone. It’s about the remembrances, sweet and painful, and connecting with family and friends that bring us joy.”
In closing, Ruhl asked everyone present to take time to focus on three words: Celebrate, Honor and Remember.
“Celebrate the lives of our fallen heroes, honor their service and sacrifice, and remember them each and every day.”
Thank you to those within our community whom gave your lives for our freedoms, and those within your families whom sacrificed so much. We celebrate, honor and remember you, today and every day.