LETART — “President Ronald Regan said these words, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We must pass it on to our children because it was not born in their bloodstream, it must be fought for, it must be protected, and handed on to them on the same way.’ One day we will spend our sunset years, just like many of us that are here today, telling our children how much we love this country.”
These were the words said by Rev. John Bumgarner during the invocation for the opening ceremony of the traveling World War II memorial at Letart Nature Park on Friday.
The memorial will be set up at the park from now until after the morning hours of Monday, May 27. Individuals can come by and see the sights at anytime as the memorial will be open 24 hours a day.
Bill Quickel, representative of the Letart Nature Park Development Organization (LNPDO), was the emcee for the ceremony. The other guest speakers were Carson Crow, Jeannie Ignash, Sandy Morgan, and Mary Claire Brinker with a song performed by the New Haven Elementary fifth graders as well as various original poems read by New Haven Elementary fifth graders.
Throughout the ceremony, Quickel quizzed the New Haven Elementary students on World War II facts.
In attendance at the ceremony were two World War II veterans, Lester Clark Click and Bill Burton.
Quickel explained Click was a member of the Navy and joined at the age of 17 before he even finished high school. He grew up on a farm in Mount Alto. Click served in the Navy from 1945-47 and earned the rank of Seaman First Class. He served in Guam and was a truck driver. He was discharged early as he was needed back home for family matters.
Burton, who is from Ravenswood, was a member of the Air Force from 1942-45. He joined at the age of 22 and earned the rank of Tech Sargent. He flew in a B-24 Liberator Bomber and was the tail gunner. He served in England and went on 32 flying missions.
After the recognition of the World War II veterans, the New Haven fifth graders performed the song “Arlington.”
Crow, former judge and lawyer in Meigs County, Ohio, then took the microphone sharing stories of past soldiers he knew from Meigs County. Crow has a special interest in the history and soldiers of World War II, he reminisced on the nine Medal of Honor recipients from West Virginia.
“My hat is off forever to you veterans for what you have done for us and continue to do, freedom is not free…thank you armed forces,” said Crow.
Ignash, who is the manager of the organization Freedom’s Never Free, then explained what everything in the memorial represented. The wall of stars represents the soldiers who were killed in World War II, each star on the wall represents 100 soldiers lives, there are 4,048 stars on the wall. The memorial has 56 pillars which represents all of the states, territories, and districts that were involved in the war from the United States. The Atlantic and Pacific pavilions represent the two wars that were happening, one against Japan and the other against Germany. The wheat and oak reeds represented the blessings from God the United States received. The rope connecting the pillars signified the unity of the country.
Ignash then discussed with the students how during the World War II era, children their age were not in school, but rather staying at home to help as well as working in factories to help produce weaponry and bullets for the soldiers fighting in the war.
Following Ignash, select New Haven Elementary fifth graders shared their original poems about World War II.
Morgan, who is an Air Force veteran and joined at the age of 18, then told the story of the four chaplains. The four chaplains were newly commissioned World War II U.S. Army Chaplains, one being a Rabbi, one being a Catholic Priest, one being a Methodist Minister, the other being a Dutch Reformed American Minister. While headed en route to their first mission, their ship was shot by three torpedoes from a German U-Boat. The chaplains helped organize the others on the ship and lead them to the life boats, scarified their life jackets to other men for them to survive, and prayed and sang songs to help alleviate fear and give their fellow men hope to survive. Though the chaplains did not survive on Feb. 3, 1943, their surviving family members received a special medal for their heroism honoring their sacrifice, the Special Medal of Heroism/Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism. Each year on Feb. 3, the four chaplains are remembered and recognized for their heroism.
After Morgan’s presentation, Brinker, a New Haven Elementary fifth grader, read aloud a letter from her Great Great Uncle. In the letter, he is writing home to his family during his time in the service in World War II.
To round out the ceremony, Rev. Bumgarner explained the significance of the missing man table display.
Quickel extended a thank you to Ohio Valley Bank for sponsoring this event.
On Saturday, May 25, a Veterans Appreciation Ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. at the park. Refreshments such as hot dogs, beans, and cornbread will be available. Along with viewing the memorial on the park’s grounds, there is also World War II memorabilia and displays inside the park’s community building for guests to view.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.