West Chester, Middletown honors veterans on Memorial Day

BUTLER COUNTY – Cheering crowds lined the streets of West Chester Twp. Monday morning to honor those who have fought and died for their country.

It was a day for wearing red, white and blue, flag waving, bagpipers and bands and for honoring those who have served.

The annual parade marched down Cincinnati Dayton Road and over to Brookside Cemetery — where more than 700 veterans, including 100 who served in the Civil War and one who served in the Revolutionary War, are buried — for a ceremony.

The commemoration featured grand marshal, 96-year-old Llano Coolidge Bell, who was drafted into the service in 1944, just a few years after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Navy.

Guest Speaker Army National Guard Colonel James D. Eriksen, Jr. reminded the crowd what Memorial Day is supposed to signify.

“Today is not a holiday, it is not the first day of summer or the best day for a new mattress sale,” Erickson said. “It is a day for somber reflection and it’s a day for us to recall their true heroism. For families to gather together and share their stories. For friends to commiserate and remember those who did not return from the hell of combat.

Dave and Mel Groth have been coming to the West Chester parade since the beginning and say they always stake out the prime parade-watching spot in front of the township administrative building.

“The family and I try to bring our beloved vet down with us,” Dave said about his Army veteran dad. “He gets to see some of his fellow armed service veterans and it’s a good way to celebrate.”

Mel said he comes to “remember the boys that didn’t come back.”

In Middletown, about 50 units participated in the annual Memorial Day parade that included from Scout troops, veterans organizations, city police and fire departments, city officials, classic cars, churches, community organizations, and various police and fire vehicles. The parade featured the marching bands from Middletown, Madison and Bishop Fenwick high schools.

The parade marched the 1.5-mile route from Smith Park through downtown Middletown as it winded its way down Verity Parkway to Woodside Cemetery.

A skydiver from Team Fastrax swooped in as the Madison High School marching band played the National Anthem as the annual Memorial Day remembrance began shortly after parade.

The keynote speaker of the event was state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, a former Green Beret in the U.S, Army and the Republican nominee for the office of Ohio Secretary of the State in November. LaRose volunteered for numerous overseas deployments and received numerous commendations and honors, including the Bronze Star.

LaRose noted that 42 million people have served in the armed forces since the nation was founded. Of that number and 1.5 million wounded in combat, and 1 million who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

“Today is about love. That great love that causes someone to risk their lives or to give their life for a noble cause….. That love was for America. Not just this of piece of soil, not just this beautiful country between two shining seas. But the idea of America,” LaRose said. “Today is about them and their families.”

Local veterans organizations placed a wreath at the city’s war memorial, followed by a 21-gun salute, the lower of the cemetery’s flat to half-staff, the playing a “Taps” and “Amazing Grace.’ A flock of white doves was released as the ceremonies ended.

Mike Gomia, commander of American Legion Post 218 in Middletown, said Monday’s parade and ceremonies “was very good” and this year’s committee did a tremendous job. Gomia, who was a soldier in Vietnam, said Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen solders in that war.

“I will remember and cherish them for the rest of my lifetime,” he said. “That’s what Memorial Day is for.”

A special presentation was made to parade Grand Marshal Ginger Bruggeman at the Middletown Firefighters Memorial nearby. City firefighters presented her with a pillow made from her portions of the fire coat that her son Scott wore as a firefighter. Scott Bruggeman, a veteran of the Marine Corps and a member of the Division of Fire, retiring in 2015. Bruggeman, died in 2016 after battling heart disease for two years.

Story originally written by Denise G. Callahan for The Journal-News on 5/29/18. Read original story here.