LORAIN — Words can never fully express the sacrifices of America’s war dead or the gratitude owed them.
However, speakers at a Sunday tribute said they hope Americans will remember who Memorial Day is for on a holiday known for ballgames, picnics and a day off from work. Speaker Dan Gillotti paid tribute to all of the dead, but singled out those killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their survivors.
Through Thursday, 2,320 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. In Iraq, 4,423 were killed.
“We are so proud of them today for their sacrifices,” said Gillotti, a former Army 1st sergeant and Vietnam War combat veteran. “Remember them in your hearts and in your prayers, and remember them also when they return back home to us.”
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said a January jog through Eric Barnes Heroes Walk, a trail honoring the five Lorain-born men killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, gave him greater appreciation of the sacrifices of men and women of his generation. Ritenauer, 29, recalled playing kick the can and other sports as a boy with Joseph “Ryan” Giese.
Giese, a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal, was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan. “Let’s make sure we never forget and we take the power of today’s ceremony with us into all of the other days of the year,” Ritenauer said.
Ritenauer saluted Lorain and Lorain County veterans for commemorating the dead and improving conditions for survivors. There are about 1.3 million military members, according to the Department of Defense.
In a nation of about 316 million, that’s about 0.4 percent. Critics say that’s led to a disconnection between civilians and soldiers.
But there are about 28,000 veterans in Lorain County, according to the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission. That’s about 9 percent of the roughly 303,000 county residents. Local veterans and their families are active and vocal.
“That who’s here today,” speaker Sam Felton Jr. told the audience of about 100 people at the Lorain Palace Theatre. “For those of us in this audience, we truly understand what Memorial Day really is.”
Felton quoted from President James Garfield’s 1868 speech as a Union general on the first Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day. Garfield said the Civil War dead had “made immortal their patriotism and virtue.”
Felton asked audience members to keep alive the sacrifices of the dead. “Some time, sit down and tell someone younger than yourself or maybe listen to someone older about why we have a Memorial Day,” he said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.