STRATTON - The public had its first opportunity to view the village's newly constructed Veterans Memorial Park Sunday during a dedication service attended by hundreds of citizens Veterans Day.
The monument includes five stones in a circle around a flagpole flying the American, Ohio and POW/MIA flags. The stones contain the names of more than 350 veterans in all wars from Stratton, Empire, Goose Run, Port Homer and Sugar Grove. The monument, situated in front of the Village Municipal Building, 136 Second Ave., attracted a large crowd to watch the dedication Sunday. After a welcome by Fred Abdalla, Jefferson County sheriff and decorated Vietnam War veteran, the Rev. Steve Johnson, pastor of the Stratton Nazarene Church, recited the invocation and asked those gathered to "remember those in harm's way whether they are on the land, in the air or on the sea."
The Toronto American Legion Post 86 color guard posted colors before Boy Scout Troop 47 raised the flag at the monument's center. The national anthem was sung by the Edison High School chamber ensemble, after which Abdalla, who also acted as master of ceremonies for the event, complimented village leaders for their vision in constructing the monument.
MEMORIAL DEDICATED — Fred Abdalla, decorated Vietnam War veteran and sheriff of Jefferson County, speaks during Sunday’s dedication of the Stratton Veterans Memorial Park in Stratton. The service, also coinciding with Veterans Day, included guest speakers Abdalla and the Rev. Mike Bongart, pastor the the Toronto First Presbyterian Church and decorated Vietnam War veteran. - Mark Miller
"Mayor (John) Abdalla, I don't think there's town in the country that can stand up to what you did," said Abdalla. "It's just amazing - a fantastic job.
"For 200 years the American flag has been covered with the blood of veterans and still continues to be covered to this day," continued Abdalla. "We can't forget the sacrifice of these men."
Abdalla went on to cite several area veterans he considered heroes, including some who were "beaten and tortured" defending the country.
"We can only imagine the pain they endured," said the sheriff. "We should remind veterans (of our gratitude) when they are alive - not when they're dead. They can't hear us thank them when they are dead."
Abdalla also told of his gratitude of veterans of World War II, "the greatest generation. They freed the whole world. When you're shaking hands with a World War II veteran, you're shaking hands with history."
Abdalla said the monument included the names of several veterans who died in World War II, "including three right here in Stratton. A little town like this - how could we forget that?"
Abdalla also discussed how he accompanied the remains of Nate Rock, a Toronto native and veteran who was killed during the Iraq war. He said for the families of those killed in battle, there is no closure.
"People say, 'Finally, there is closure,'" Abdalla said, choking back tears. "I hate that word 'closure.' How can there be closure (for the family of) that loved one?"
Abdalla said the most families of those killed during service can attain is "peace of mind knowing their loved one is back home. I never thought in my lifetime I'd see this. But to the mayor and council, you made this happen. I thank you."
The sheriff then introduced speaker the Rev. Mike Bongart, pastor of the Toronto First Presbyterian Church and decorated Vietnam War veteran, as "one of my heroes. He lived through it and survived."
Bongart praised those who created the monument before telling the gathering all veterans, whether they served during wartime or not, should be remembered. He said it was in 1966 he volunteered to join the Army for active duty in Vietnam, and "although others were drafted, we all took the same oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
"The Army had a way of making us a band of brothers," continued Bongart, adding he was stationed in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in April of 1968. "It was a very tumultuous time in our history."
The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy both occurred in 1968, and "I had a cushy job," said Bongart, adding his job was to take infantry into the field.
"They were the grunt workers who did all the dirty work," said Bongart, adding his life changed on Oct. 4, 1968, after his helicopter was grounded by enemy fire.
While escaping into a rice paddy a mortar round went off and shrapnel pierced his helmet into his brain, and "I went down," said Bongart. At first he was presumed dead until a medic tried to revive him. Bongart then said he was flown to a hospital where surgery was performed. He added his recovery was speedy enough for him to return to Vietnam for a second tour of duty.
"I am alive today by the grace of God," he said. "The real heroes today are the ones in the armed forces. They are all volunteers."
The ceremony ended with a reading of the "Gettysburg Address" by Stratton Councilman Kelly Householder, a 21-gun salute by the Toronto American Legion Post 86 Firing Squad and the playing of taps.