Before the opening ceremony Friday evening, Nashville recording artist Rockie Lynne entertained the crowd with patriotic songs he had written.
Also, he had all the Vietnam veterans in attendance stand in front of the stage to be honored. Lynne said there weren’t many people who greeted them when they returned home and those who did, didn’t have very many good things to say. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Angelo Nuzzo, Ohio Flags of Honor coordinator, saluted each of the veterans and shook their hands.
“We want to give them the welcome home they deserve,” said Lynne, who served with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne. “Welcome home, brothers.”
The Ohio Flags of Honor is a traveling memorial honoring those 301 military personnel from the Buckeye State who were killed during the War on Terrorism. Residents placed American flags in their honor among about 900 support flags. Retired Willard Middle School teacher Van Ramsay and David Harwood, of the Harwood & Niedermeier law firm, read each of the names.
Family members of the late Jason L. Sparks, of Monroeville, laid a wreath in their son’s honor. The 2003 Monroeville High School graduate and private first class was killed Sept. 8, 2004 in Iraq while serving in the Army. His was the second name that was announced Friday; the first was the late Nicholaus Zimmer, an Army specialist who was killed May 30, 2004. His father Gino started the Ohio Flags of Honor and is the foundation president.
Other area residents who honored among the 301 flags were: Army Sgt. Patrick R. Carroll, of New London (who was killed Feb. 7, 2011); Army Sgt. Jon L. Martin, of Bellevue (Nov. 22, 2007); and Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles L. Adkins, of Sandusky, (April 6, 2011).
The Northern Ohio FOOLS (Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society) rang the bell as each name was announced.
Nuzzo and Huron County veterans officer Robert Ward praised the great turnout and hard work by the local Ohio Flags of Honor committee. Ward said Willard is a community that does a lot to honor its veterans and current military personnel — from the “Hometown Heroes” banners posted up and down Myrtle Avenue to the annual Veterans Day program by Willard City Schools to high school students accompanying veterans on the annual Honor Flight to Washington.
“It was one of the fastest setups we’ve had,” said Nuzzo, who noted it “has become a healing memorial” for both the “gold star families” (relatives of the deceased) and other people. “Bellevue and Norwalk, you have been put on notice.”
Bellevue hosted the memorial in 2015 and again in 2018. In 2016, Norwalk was an Ohio Flags of Honor site. The memorial will go to Port Clinton for the Fourth of July weekend.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joel Capell was the main speaker for the opening ceremony Friday. He spent his first 19 years in Willard. Capell recalled how his respect for the American flag, reverence for veterans and “sense of patriotism” started when he would recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day at Greenfield Elementary School.
“These things were gifted to me,” said Capell, who told the crowd the military personnel being honored with the flags are “stories of humanity cut unexpectedly short.”