For Jerry Steffek, the senior vice commander of the Summit County Veterans Services Commission, Memorial Day isn’t something to celebrate once a year.
And although the VSC holds an annual Memorial Day ceremony at Glendale Cemetery near downtown Akron, Steffek thinks every day should be Memorial Day, especially to honor those still fighting in the Middle East.
“It allows me to recognize the sacrifices that our young men and women have given over different conflicts we’ve had over the years,” Steffek of Akron said. “Those are the ones we try to remember today.”
Steffek led a ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Civil War Memorial Chapel, a 140-year-old building bearing stained-glass soldiers in its windows and the names of the fallen etched into its stone walls. He spoke of the veterans who fought in past wars, those still fighting today, and those who never made it home.
“They are mostly anonymous, aside from the families who loved them,” Steffek said of the soldiers. “Who were they? They were relatives, friends, neighbors coming together to provide a service for our nation.”
The point hits close to home for Steffek. The son of a World War II veteran, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, while his younger brother was drafted to fight right in Vietnam.
“The fact that my brother survived Vietnam and my dad survived World War II … you really start to appreciate what fellow servicemen and their families go through.”
After Steffek’s remarks, about 40 people rose from their seats and removed their hats for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, two members of VSC demonstrated the ceremonial American flag folding, each of its 13 creases paying homage to different aspects of the nation and those who fight for it.
Larry Moore, the executive director of VSC, made the ceremony’s closing remarks, noting that each headstone “represents a person who was loved by someone and who loved someone in return.”
The ceremony then concluded outside, where members of the VSC performed a gun salute and played taps.
Akron resident Edmond Fast, one of the two bugle players at the service, is a veteran himself. He left for Fort Knox, Ky., in 1967 and came home eight years later with two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Star Medals after serving in Vietnam as a combat medic for the infantry. Now, he tries to help fellow veterans in any way he can, serving as one of several veteran ministers at Eastern Road Church of God in Rittman.
“I’m very blessed; I came home pretty much intact,” Fast said. “I still wanted to work with veterans and share with them. It’s always a blessing to get the opportunity to do that.”
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.