Paying tribute early

A day born out of love, compassion and empathy for others was celebrated in two small communities Sunday as Memorial Day events were held a week early in Hanoverton and Winona.

Speakers in both communities noted that Decoration Day began during the Civil War when the wives and mothers of Civil War soldiers were cleaning off the gravesites of their loved ones and realized the graves of their Union counterparts had become overgrown with weeds.

Understanding that these soldiers were the loved ones of Union families far away, these mothers and wives cleaned their graves as well, eventually leading to the tradition of Decoration Day when one druggist decided to close his store for the day and suggested others do the same to honor those who had died in the Civil War.

In 1882, Decoration Day was officially declared, and, the nation began celebrating the day with patriotic events.

In Hanoverton, keynote speaker Steve Viscounte, United Local Schools superintendent, told those gathered at Betz Park, “Your presence here today reflects the true meaning of Memorial Day. You’re doing an important thing by being here today.”

Viscounte continued, “We owe a great debt to those who sacrificed their lives so we can live free.”

In addition to Viscounte’s remarks, United Local senior Travis Miller recited the Gettysburg Address, and the band performed.

Among the honored guests was World War II veteran Walt Watson, a former paratrooper, who appeared in his original uniform.

Dan Sanor, commander of American Legion Lepine Rush Post 684 and Viscounte placed a wreath at the park memorial, and Legion member Arthur Furey announced that this will be the last year the Legion will host the Memorial Day event, due to the aging of its members.

Furey said he hopes town officials will take over sponsorship of the event in the future. This was the 68th year the Legion hosted the event.

In Winona, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Ron S. Gesaman returned to his hometown to give the keynote address at ceremonies held at Glenn Bennett Memorial Playground, saying he was proud to tell anyone he is from Winona.

“This is where my character was shaped,” Gesaman said, saying he had probably passed the memorial 1,000 times while growing up in Winona but “probably never knew what it meant” until later in life.

The son of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald E. Gesaman, the 27-year Army veteran served in numerous assignments and duty stations throughout the United States and around the world, earning numerous awards and currently serving as deputy commander for nursing at Fox Army Health Center at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

Calling Memorial Day one of the “most solemn and patriotic days and rightfully so,” Gesaman said it is a time for Americans to honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms they enjoy.

Gesaman shared his personal experience with a soldier with whom he served who died in battle in June 2006 while attempting to save another soldier. While he lay dying, the soldier asked that his love be conveyed to his family, and Gesaman said, “I have held the hands of many as the light went from their eyes. Not one spoke of revenge or hate. In their last moments on Earth, they spent them letting people know they were loved. It is our solemn responsibility to let (these soldiers) know we love them. Keep this celebration alive.”

He and his wife, the former D.J. Peppel of Columbiana, were presented a plaque from the Winona Historical Society for their “exemplary service” to the country by President Derek Coffee.

The soldiers of the Glenn Bennett Memorial Playground were remembered with a roll call of names: William L. Andre, Glenn W. Bennett, Donald W. Dennis, Zeno J. Duda, Gerald E. Wheaton, Charles Wolford and Staff Sergeant William Sheen.

Bagpipers Theresa Carr and Glenn Duncan performed “Amazing Grace,” while the United Local High School Band performed the National Anthem and “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and the high school choir sang “God Bless America.”

Debbie Walton Hanley recited Flanders Fields, and the Salem Honor Guard gave a 21-gun salute, followed by placing a memorial wreath by retired Senior Master Sergeant David Starcher.

The events at the park were preceded by a parade from Hall Park that included Boy Scouts, 4-H clubs, antique vehicles, the high school band and other units.

The annual strawberry festival and homecoming, car show, entertainment and auction rounded out the day in Winona, with proceeds to benefit restoration of the 1838 Meeting House.