BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — Over 150 people huddled inside the riverside shelter house at Side Cut Metropark on a chilly Saturday morning to pray and pay their respects to over 850 local veterans who are buried at Maumee’s two cemeteries, and to volunteer their time to lay a wreath at the gravesites of each of those veterans.
Dennis Addis, founder of Maumee Honoring Military Veterans, a local volunteer group associated with the national Wreaths Across America (WAA) organization, opened the 11:00 a.m. ceremony with a moment of silence in honor of the veterans who rest in peace at Riverside Cemetery and St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery.
“Let’s take a moment of silence to remember the fallen, prisoners of war, those missing in action, those suffering through injuries, and to honor those who have served and are serving in this great nation’s armed services,” said Addis.
The Maumee American Legion Post 320 color guard unit then presented the colors while all gathered recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Tech. Sgt. Michael White, of the 180th Fighter Wing, then addressed the assembly and explained the patriotic meaning associated with each step taken in the folding of the American flag. Two members of the American Legion held an American flag and folded it in step-by-step fashion in order to visually demonstrate White’s explanation as to what each successive fold symbolized.
Addis invited eight different members of the American Legion to present ceremonial wreaths, with seven members specifically honoring those who served in the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Merchant Marines. The eighth wreath was dedicated to the memory of the 93,000 servicemen and women who have been lost and are listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action.
“These individuals have never returned to their families and homes,” Addis stated. “We shall not forget you.”
Addis then offered a suggestion to the volunteers in attendance.
“I encourage every volunteer here today who places a wreath on a veteran’s grave to speak that veteran’s name aloud and take a moment of silence to thank them for their service to our great country.”
Addis offered instructions on how each volunteer would locate the graves, marked with an orange utility flag. Once located, the orange markers were to be replaced with a wreath at the headstone of each veteran’s grave.
“Remember, we are not here to ‘decorate’ graves,” he emphasized. We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives. Each wreath is a show of appreciation from a grateful nation.”
Maumee Mayor Richard Carr was then introduced to speak. The mayor opened his remarks by thanking Addis for his hard work for founding and organizing the event for the past two years.
“I also want to thank the members of the American Legion, who stepped forward last year and contributed greatly, both last year and this year,” the mayor said. “Thank you, not only for your service to our country, but thank you for what you have done today.”
Carr also said, “I want to thank every one of you who brought a student here today. For those students, it is so important that we remember to pass down to each generation the importance of our veterans.”
“We have these opportunities in America only because our veterans have preserved our freedoms and given us those opportunities,” the mayor added.
Fr. Eric Schild, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, opened his statements with some humor. Noting the freezing weather, Fr. Eric joked, “Isn’t there a better time that we could pick to do this?”
With everybody so busy preparing for the holiday season, “there is a lot we could be doing now,” he continued. “And I thought, ‘Why are we doing this a week before Christmas?’”
“Then it all made sense to me. It made sense because in a week, all of us will be able to celebrate Christmas freely. We will be able to celebrate Christmas, in freedom, as we so choose. That is because of all of our veterans, and the folks who continue to fight this day.
“I think it’s so fitting, especially for those who are fighting this day, who are serving in our military and who can’t be with their families during Christmas,” Fr. Eric said. “It’s powerful for us to gather and just remember them and let them know that we have their backs as well.”
“We gather, knowing this is exactly where we need to be. It’s in that spirit that we place this all in God’s hands this morning.”
Fr. Eric then led the assembly in prayer, with special attention paid toward gratitude for those who have sacrificed in the past, a request for protection for those who are currently serving, and for healing for those veterans who are suffering with physical and emotional wounds that have resulted from their time of service.
“We ask, Lord, that you show them miracles as they seek to gain health, stability and wholeness.”
The remembrance ceremony concluded with the playing of taps, the “lights out” bugle call, and the retiring of the colors.
At that point, the volunteers left the shelter house and proceeded to their designated areas in the cemeteries to place the wreaths on the veterans’ graves and to offer their thanks.
As light snowflakes descended upon the cemeteries, the placement of the wreaths seemed to add a special aura to an already spiritual morning. Despite the frigid air, many people took an extra moment to linger and socialize with one another, feeling good about gathering as one and doing something substantial to honor the veterans.