GREENFIELD — Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony had been a quiet, somber service as families and veterans gathered to remember the 252 Hancock County men and women who gave their lives in honor of freedom.
But just before the crowd dispersed, organizers invited everyone to join Anita Workman in song.
As Irving Berlin’s lyrics, “God bless America, land that I love,” echoed through the cemetery, a steady breeze rippled the sea of American flags surrounding those whose voices rose together.
About 150 people gathered Monday for the 60th Memorial Day ceremony held in Park Cemetery in Greenfield. Conducted every year, the event gives local families the opportunity to remember veterans who died defending their country, to step away from barbecues and get-togethers and join in a quiet moment of remembrance.
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Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.1 million men and women have lost their lives fighting battles on American and foreign soil, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. For 60 years, the Dale E. Kuhn American Legion Post 119 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2693 have planned and hosted the local event to pay homage to them, especially the 252 Hancock County men and women who gave their lives.
And for more than 40 years, members have erected the Avenue of Flags in the cemetery to memorialize their fallen comrades. More than 700 flags are annually placed in the cemetery, where they stand for two weeks to honor Hancock County’s veterans.
The event’s speaker, Kurt Vetters, commander of the local American Legion Post, said the Memorial Day event is a time to honor the million American men and women whose final resting places lie on battlefields across the world.
The list of Hancock County men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice is long, so Vetters focused on those who died in 1918, fighting in World War I, and 1968 during the Vietnam War — two of the most bloody years in the country’s wartime history.
He read aloud their names, some dead nearly 100 years, the other, 50.
Teddy Brewer, George Hite, Forrest Hutton — the list goes on.
He wondered what each would have become had their lives not been cut short. A physician? A teacher? Maybe even the mayor.
“We will never know, so we honor their memory as a community, because we all lost something with them,” Vetters said.
Mayor Chuck Fewell told those gathered he was honored to stand with them, remembering Hancock County’s bravest. Then he gave thanks to those in the audience who lost a love one in battle.
“I have the greatest respect and appreciation for their contributions and sacrifice,” he said. “Memorial Day is a time for Americans as one body to stand up and say, ‘Thank you; we remember you; we are grateful to you.’”
Community members stood and listened to a rifle salute. As taps played, many bowed their heads.
They clutched tiny American flags they would later place on the gravesites of veterans buried in the cemetery.
Brandon Nelson, a Greenfield-Central High School football player who helped erect the Avenue of Flags last weekend, attended the event with his teammates.
He enjoyed helping honor Hancock County’s veterans. He plans to make the event a tradition.
“I respect all the veterans and what they did for us,” he said. “I’ll be here next year.”