WINTERSVILLE - The crowd Monday at the Fort Steuben Burial Estates was silent as balloons strings were cut and lifted to the sky.
Each balloon represented one of 34 local veterans who has passed away since 2011. The solemn act became a Memorial Day tradition last year.
"It is with great pride that I welcome each and every one of you here to the village of Wintersville," said Mayor Robert Gale. "I offer a special welcome and thank you to all of the veterans as we remember their comrades that made the ultimate sacrifice so we may enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted.
IN?REMEMBRANCE??– Balloons lifted to the sky Monday at the Fort Steuben Burial Estates in Wintersville during the 58th-annual Memorial Day program. Each balloon represented a local veteran who has passed away since 2011.
"We honor them in a joyous and thankful commemoration of what they did. Look at the flag at its peak, and over the cemetery and all of the beautiful flags marking every hero that has served this country with dignity. We gather here today to thank them for their valor and their service," said Gale.
Herman Segle, past commander of the Stevens-Christian American Legion Post 557, served as master of ceremonies.
Among the crowd was Leonard Masci, a veteran of the Marine Corps who was present during the flag raising at Iwo Jima during World War II.
Masci said the memorial service is a way to remember the guys that didn't make it and a way of paying respect to them.
He began his military career at 18 years old and came out of the service at age 21. Masci said the experience was "quite a change of life."
"It was quite an adventure and then things got very serious. My time was both good and bad, and it changed me from a teenager to a man. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I'd never do it again," said Masci, recalling his time during the war.
The guest speaker for the event was Toronto county court Judge Joseph M. Corabi.
"It is a great privilege and honor to be here today. Over two million have given their lives to our country. They gave their energy, their sacrifice and often times their lives so that we could be free," said Corabi.
"Freedom is a precious right, and one worth preserving. What kind of men and woman have given their lives? I think of three traits - character, service and courage," said Corabi.
The firing squad took position and fired their rifles as a salute to the deceased, and Jim Blair, bugler, retired veteran of the Army and past commander of Post 57, played taps as the ceremony closed.
(Kins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @jkinsHS on Twitter.)