The opening ceremony will be at 7 p.m. today at the Willard City Park, 542 S. Main St. The traveling memorial honors those military personnel who have been killed in the War on Terrorism.
Robert Ward, Huron County veteran officer, is one of the committee members helping organize the event. He said so far, Bellevue “has been the gold standard” to host the event in the area, but he quickly added that Willard has done a great job also.
“I’m proud of Willard. You’ve worked your butts off,” he told the committee. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of Willard.”
Bellevue hosted the Ohio Flags of Honor last year and in 2015. Norwalk was a host site in 2016. There are about 16 similar memorials each year. After being in Willard, it will move to Port Clinton.
‘It’s going to be awesome’
Kim Elmlinger, secretary to the Willard city manager, is on the local committee. She said the Ohio Flags of Honor is an opportunity for residents, industries, businesses and schools to come together.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Elmlinger said. “Our community has stepped up to make this happen to honor our fallen service members.”
Slightly more than 300 flags — representing the killed military personnel — will be added to about 600 “support flags” and placed in the Willard City Park. Residents may visit the memorial 24 hours a day until the closing ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“If something (unexpected) happens, don’t stress about it,” Ward told his fellow committee members. “It’s all about the 301 names.”
Area “gold star members” (family members of the deceased) will post flags in tribute to their relative.
Scott and Lisa Sparks, of Monroeville, will be there to pay tribute to their late son, U.S. Army Pfc. Jason L. Sparks, who was killed Sept. 8, 2004. Charles Adkins will represent his late son, Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles L. Adkins, of Sandusky, who died April 6, 2011. Other gold star family members will come from the Columbus area and Warren County.
“Those gold star families are the most important thing that are coming,” said Ward, noting those relatives generally enjoy meeting people — all of which helps with the healing process.
Ohio Flags of Honor president Gino Zimmer and his wife Lisa will be at the opening ceremony. They started the memorial after receiving a phone call on May 30, 2004 informing them that their son Nick, an Army specialist, had been killed.
Escort from Galion, concert
Willard City Manager Jim Ludban oversaw a committee meeting last week to iron out the final details, including the layout, seating for the honored guests, parking, flag placement and the escort from Galion. The escort required coordination among several area police and fire departments, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Huron County Sheriff’s Office.
The memorial will have an escort to Willard from Galion. It started this morning at 220 N. Portland Way, Galion, in the parking lot behind McDonald’s. Instrumental to that escort is the Ohio Patriot Guard Riders, which was formed in 2005.
The Ohio Patriot Guard Riders originally were comprised of Vietnam veterans and American Legion bikers. District 2 captain Gary Knight, of Ontario, said the group initially handled unwanted funeral guests who were disrespecting some military personnel who were killed in action (KIAs) and “were coming home.”
“They said, ‘No, not on our watch. This isn’t gonna happen,’” Knight added. “It kinda grew out of that and out of the invitation of the family, we would attend the funeral of the KIA soldiers and would stand (at) flag line.
“We escort the families to the airport to pick up their loved one. We escort them back home; we stand (at) flag line during the visitation. We escort them to their final resting place and if there are unwanted guests there, we place ourselves between the family and these unwanted guests so they don’t see ‘em.”
Knight was asked why the Galion to Willard escort is important to the Ohio Flags of Honor.
“Because we brought home a lot of these individuals,” he said, adding it’s a continuation of the bikers’ mission. “Depending on how long a member has been in the Patriot Guard Riders, they may have escorted people home in 2005 or ‘06 — or last year.”
Rockie Lynne will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Willard City Park near the pool, with fireworks to follow. The singer served with the 82nd Airborne in the Army for three years at Fort Bragg.
“Never forget,” Elmlinger said. “We can’t forget the fallen service members.”