BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — A pair of F-16 fighter jets thundering across a sunny blue sky provided an awe-inspiring welcoming salute for over 100 local volunteers who gathered at Side Cut Metropark on Saturday morning to participate in the third annual Wreaths Across America ceremony.
The flyover was a new addition to the event this year and served as an impressive opening act for the memorial ceremony that soon followed inside the Maumee Rotary Centennial Pavilion.
“Please step outside the pavilion and salute Capt. Josh Utter (call sign Dutch) and Capt. Nate Nuveman (call sign Cuda) of the 180th Fighter Wing as they provide us and our veterans a salute in their F-16s,” announced Dennis Addis, founder of Maumee Honoring Military Veterans, a local volunteer group closely associated with the national Wreaths Across America (WWA) organization.
Following the flyover, Addis opened the ceremony by saying, “Thank you for coming out today to celebrate and carry out the mission to remember the fallen, honor those who served and their families and teach the next generation the value of freedom.”
“This ceremony and placement of nearly 3 million wreaths by 2 million volunteers is taking place at 3,700 cemeteries throughout this great country and overseas,” he continued.
“Our two cemeteries are the resting place for over 900 veterans. Each will receive a wreath in their honor today.”
Addis recognized the 65 wreath sponsors for their financial contributions to the program, and then called for a moment of silence to remember the U.S. soldiers who have fallen in action, the prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action.
This was followed by the public recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with a color guard from Maumee American Legion Post 320 providing a beautiful backdrop of American flags.
Master Sgt. Justin Askins, of the 180th Fighter Wing, was the second featured speaker.
“As Americans, we are accustomed to being able to freely choose those who represent us in government, decide for ourselves what careers we will pursue, shop wherever we wish, vacation anywhere we can afford, drive across state lines without the need for internal passports, send our children to public, private or Christian schools – or even homeschool, if we wish – and practice our religions without interference from the government,” Askins said.
“These are just a few examples of freedoms enjoyed by all Americans,” he continued. “Unfortunately, it is easy to take these freedoms for granted. This is why it is so important to do what we are gathered here to do this morning: Remember those who served so that we might always appreciate the price that is paid for the freedoms we enjoy.”
“Ladies and gentlemen – fellow patriots – I encourage you in the strongest terms to teach your children and grandchildren about the things that make America both good and great. Make sure they understand that the freedom and liberty they enjoy every day is not a given – that it comes at a cost,” he concluded.
At this point in the program, members of the American Legion Post 320 presented seven ceremonial wreaths in honor of each of the seven branches of the service, as well as an eighth wreath to honor those soldiers who are still missing in action.
Participating in the wreath presentation were American Legion Post Cmdr. James Pauly as well as fellow legion members Phillip Padilla, William Clayton, Chris Fargo, Richard Cymbola, Ken Vaughn, Chris LaPorta and Dave Ybarra.
Maumee Mayor-elect Jim MacDonald then addressed the audience, saying, “We are here today to honor our veterans by the laying of Christmas wreaths upon the graves of those who served our country to protect the freedoms we enjoy, so we can live in freedom and without fear. Each one is a marker, a monument to a hero.
“Today, wreaths will be laid at Riverside and St. Joseph cemeteries. I am proud to be a part of this remembrance today. Maumee thanks you. The world, America and the city of Maumee are all a better place because of this attitude of gratitude,” MacDonald stated.
Deacon Joe Malenfant, of St. Joseph Catholic Church, was the fourth and final speaker.
“Today, we gather to participate in the strong ritual of laying wreaths on the graves of our brave veterans and come together as a community to pay tribute to those who unselfishly served our nation,” Malenfant stated.
“In this hallowed ground we leave memories where our heroes rest and we stand united with gratitude and respect. Each headstone represents a soldier’s sacrifice, valor and commitment to a cause greater than one’s self,” Malenfant continued.
“As we stand before these graves, let us pledge to carry forward a torch of remembrance.”
Following the remarks of the four featured speakers, Jerry German, a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, played a haunting rendition of taps, the “lights out” military standard, on his World War II-era bugle as the American Legion members retired the colors to conclude the ceremony.
The assembled volunteers were then instructed to proceed to their designated gravesites at the Riverside and St. Joseph cemeteries to lay over 900 wreaths upon the graves of the Maumee veterans and to acknowledge each veteran for their service.
Those interested in helping to continue to honor and remember fallen heroes can sponsor wreaths in two ways:
Donate by credit card through the Maumee Honoring Military Veterans (OH0283) group page at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/OH0283.
The Wreaths Across America organization will match a third wreath for each two wreaths sponsored. Please note that Maumee Honoring Military Veterans does not receive this match if the donation is made through the St. Joseph Cemetery or Riverside Cemetery location page.
Those who prefer to write a check rather than donate online should make it payable to Wreaths Across America, noting “Group OHSTJO0283” in the memo line. Mail to Dennis Addis Re: Wreaths Across America, 10429 Bailey Rd., Waterville, OH 43566.