October 24, 2014

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Heroes Walk memorial trail dedicated on Veterans Day

They share pain from a loss that will never go away and belong to a club that no one wants to be part of.

On Sunday, some of the Gold Star families — relatives of five Lorain-born men killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — dedicated the Eric Barnes Heroes Walk. The trail links Settlers Watch and the Admiral King memorial between Hamilton and Oberlin avenues and First and Second streets.

Besides Barnes, a 20-year-old Air Force Airman 1st Class killed in Iraq in 2007, wooden markers were unveiled honoring Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph “Ryan” Giese, 24, killed in Afghanistan last year, Marine Lance Cpl. David Hall, 31, killed in Afghanistan in 2009, Army Sgt. Bruce Horner, 43, killed in Iraq in 2007, and Army Sgt. Louis Torres, 23, killed in Afghanistan in August.

“Our loss hurts deep and our lives are changed forever and as such, nothing will ever bring our lives back to normal,” said Kelly Boyer Sagert, reading from a letter written by Larry Giese, Joseph Giese’s father. “We must remember them as they were, with their great spirit and beautiful smiles, and truly understand that this was their destiny.”

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Giese, of Arizona, expressed regrets that he could not attend the ceremony, which coincided with Veterans Day tributes. Giese wrote that like other families of soldiers killed in wars — families receive Gold Star pins from the Defense Department and often display Gold Star flags — he wondered why tragedy had befallen his son and his family.

“The only answer I could come up with is this: why not me? Who am I that is so special that my son would be saved and others would lose their loved ones in war?” Giese wrote. “I guess the real answer is that we do not know why. I do believe we will one day have that answer when we meet our sons in heaven.”

Giese, as well as a few other soldiers’ relatives and dedication speakers, saluted Lorraine Ritchey for organizing creation of the trail.

Ritchey, co-chairwoman of the Charleston Village Society, a neighborhood improvement group, helped raise the approximately $5,000 donated for the memorial by dozens of individuals, companies and groups. City workers, sometimes volunteering their time, in April began grading and landscaping the area, which some neighbors had used as a dumping ground. Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Ritchey’s “heart and passion” for the project and Lorain was “truly inspiring” and promised the memorial would be well maintained.

“You’re a good woman,” said Shary Barnes, mother of Eric Barnes, as she hugged Ritchey after the ceremony attended by about 200 people, including the Lorain High School Titans Marching Band and the junior Army ROTC. “This is really nice. It’s gorgeous.”

Ritchey credited Councilman Dan Given, D-at large, for the idea for the memorial. Given wanted to create a memorial to Barnes and Ritchey suggested having it link Settlers Watch and the King memorial dedicated last year. Ritchey also credited Ariel Vazquez, the Utilities Department landscape crew leader, for overseeing work on the memorial.

Among the speakers was the Rev. Douglas Horner, pastor of the Cleveland-based St. Paul’s Community Church and the brother of Bruce Horner. Horner said after the ceremony that his father, a Korean War veteran, died recently and never really got over the loss of his son.

Horner said he was grateful for the sacrifices of soldiers killed in all wars and the sacrifices of their families. He said the nation must do more to help heal the physical and psychological wounds of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Through Friday, 2,022 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan and 17,939 wounded, according to the Defense Department. In Iraq, 4,409 soldiers have been killed and 31,925 wounded.

Horner asked the audience to do more to help those wounded and traumatized by war and work for peace.

“Bless this park that those who come may remember those who have fallen (and) may remember the tragedies of war,” he said. “Let us all work to end the realities that make war necessary.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.