True meaning of Memorial Day stressed at ceremony « The VW independent


Stephanie Renner addresses those in attendance during Monday’s annual Van Wert American Legion Post 178 Memorial Day ceremony at Woodland Cemetery. Scott Truxell/VW independent

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

Teaching, learning and understanding the true meaning of Memorial Day – that was the message during Monday’s annual Van Wert American Legion Post 178 Memorial Day service at Woodland Cemetery.

The keynote speaker was Stephanie Renner, a teacher and Veterans Day program coordinator at Lincolnview. She delivered a powerful message to a well-attended ceremony on a cool, windy and cloudy Memorial Day morning.

“To many, Memorial Day just seems to be another holiday off of work,” she said. “Do our children really know what today means? Do they know the powerful impact of losing someone they love who chose to selflessly serve others – this is why understanding Memorial Day is so crucial for not only our youth but our community to come together, to remember and to hold those grieving, to acknowledge all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect those they will never meet.”

“On Memorial Day we remember the fallen who gave their lives for our nation,” she continued. “We honor their bravery, their sacrifice and dedication given in the line of duty. If we don’t remember our veterans then what were their sacrifices for?”

“Our future generations need to be told about what it truly means to be a veteran, what they sacrificed to serve our country, leaving all they know behind, including their families, their friends and their jobs. They do so without asking for anything in return.”

She also stressed the importance of asking veterans about their stories so future generations won’t forget what they did to make the United States the greatest country in the world.

During her speech, Renner spoke of her great-grandfather, Lawrence Gehres, who served in World War I, and her grandfathers, Vernon C. Kill, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Richard Gehres, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. She said Kill was a man who would do anything for those he loved, but he passed on long before she was able to meet him.


“Although he did not die on a battlefield, the injuries he sustained in World War II would ultimately cost him his life,” Renner said. “From reading his letters to home to speaking with family members, my grandfather made huge sacrifices while serving in World War II. These sacrifices led to him being awarded many medals and commendations, including two Purple Hearts.”

She spoke of Kill trying to save as many of his men as possible when he was shot on a bridge by a Nazi tank, then after barely surviving his injuries, he chose to go back to the front line and once again suffered injuries.

Renner went on to share that she lost her other grandfather on Memorial Day, 2011, and called him one of the most important persons in her life.

“He was so incredibly special and taught me so many things, including my love for this country and to honor our veterans,” Renner stated. “He was so special to me that I actually took him in for show-and-tell when I was in elementary school on a day that you were supposed to bring in something that means the most to you.”

Paul Hoverman performs Taps.

She went on to say that those who knew him affectionately called him “Grandpa Chubby” and she said he took his family to parades, celebrations and programs to honor veterans to show how they should be revered. She also shared the emotional events of May 30, 2011, the day Gehres passed away. He was set to Memorial Day program that day but called to say he wasn’t feeling well. A squad was called and he was taken to the hospital. “They informed us he had a massive heart attack and they were sure how he even survived,” Renner said. “Lutheran Lifeflight was called due to the extent of the damage and to get him to the hospital as quickly as possible in Fort Wayne. The flight told everyone they ‘had the most special passenger aboard, a World War II veteran,’ and grandpa thought that was wonderful as he always had a love for flying.

“When we left the hospital to head to Lutheran my grandpa gave my mom a thumbs up and said ‘don’t forget to put my flag out before you head to Lutheran.’ Even in the midst of all he had going on, he was worried about not having flag up. Little did we know that within the next few minutes he would have a second heart attack. The Lifeflight nurse never stopped doing compressions on my grandpa the entire flight and later told us all he wanted to do was save this World War II veteran on Memorial Day.”

“Memorial Day is so important and we must make it our duty to preserve this day of remembrance for those who come after us,” she added.

American Legion Post 178 Commander Ken Myers provided opening remarks and said veterans have three days they look forward, yet cringe at the same time – Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday of May), Veterans Day (November 11) and Memorial Day, the final Monday of May.

“Today is Memorial Day and we celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives for our freedom,” Myers said. “While most will be celebrating with a barbeque or get-together of some sort, please take a moment to pay tribute to those who are not here to enjoy this day any longer.”

Monday’s service also included patriotic music by the Paul Hoverman Group; the Placing of the Wreath by Renner and her son Carter Renner; a 21-gun salute and taps, and the invocation and benediction by Dick Elder, and the firing of one cannon volley in honor of Civil War veterans who died in combat.

After the ceremony, a free luncheon was held for all at Post 178.

In addition to the ceremony in Van Wert, other services were held around the area, including Ohio City, Convoy, Willshire and Venedocia.

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