Toronto service held under somber skies

TORONTO – A large gathering of city residents ready to pay their respects listened to veterans hailed through song and speech during Monday’s Memorial Day services at the Veterans Victory Pavilion.

The event, sponsored by the Post 86 Toronto American Legion, was held under darkened skies and unseasonably chilly weather, but that didn’t deter hundreds gathered to witness the occasion. The service began with a welcome from C. David Rhodes, master of ceremonies and vice commander of the Toronto American Legion Post 86.

Rhodes began by saying Memorial Day was unlike any other day.

“It kind of speaks for itself,” said Rhodes of the day, who also thanked God and the city’s safety forces. “(The safety forces) are here for us. They are our soldiers right here.”

Rhodes said veterans’ sacrifices “gives you the right to stand here today. They deeply paid the price.

“Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide for all kinds of reasons,” he continued. “It’s sad. It’s unacceptable.”

Rhodes also noted Vietnam War veterans seem to be dying at a faster pace than veterans from other wars, and “No one knows why. They know why ask them.”

Josh Elliott, pastor of the Riverview United Methodist Church, along with Goldie Litva, Legion auxiliary chaplain, led the invocation, after which local Boy and Cub Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance.

John Parker, city safety director, welcomed those gathered.

“Your presence here today is a tribute (to all veterans),” he said.

Gary “Mack” McLeish sang “God Bless the U.S.A.,” after which presentations were made to Gold Star Mothers, Agie Rock and Donna Manning. Manning’s son, Ronald Manning, was killed in 1975 while serving in the final days of the Vietnam War, while Rock’s son, Nathan Rock, was killed in combat in Iraq in 2005.

Litva read a list of local veterans who died in the past year followed by the day’s guest speaker, Schelley Brooks, executive director service officer of the Jefferson County Veterans Service Commission. Brooks began by telling the gathering Memorial Day was “A day unlike any other. We are not alone. We all share a common goal today.”

Brooks told the stories of two unheralded veterans who died while in combat, and their sacrifices “indeed have changed the world.” She said while war was an awful experience, it did give America its independence, freed the slaves, defeated fascism and other regimes worldwide that posed a threat to the country. She said the day was reserved to remember the millions of Americans who gave their lives to protect America and its freedoms.

“No one can replace these fallen heroes, especially to their families,” she continued. “(America) is only possible because (soldiers) have paid the price. They know they were loved. It’s a day to remember, and remembering them one day a year isn’t enough.”

The Toronto High School Marching Band performed a medley of patriotic numbers, including “America, the Beautiful,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” and It’s a Grand Old Flag” before the placing of wreaths at the city’s World War I memorial. City resident Bill LaRue sang “America” before Elliot and Litva led the benediction. The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.

Ceremonies continued at Toronto Union Cemetery.