By Stephen Smoot
More than 50 came to Richard Homan Memorial Park in Sugar Grove to honor those who performed the ultimate sacrifice in defending freedom while also remembering “Our Boys.”
George Armstrong welcomed those who came to attend the ceremony, saying, “I didn’t think there would be a big crowd because of the weather, but thank you all for coming out.” Memorial Day came with gray skies and chilly temperatures, but the threat of rain dampened no spirits on this day of remembrance.
He also advised that “there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this park and I hope you enjoy it.”
Phillip Downs gave the opening prayer, imploring “our Heavenly Father” to “bless them abundantly for the hardships they faced.”
Armstrong then rose again, thanking the community for their superlative dedication to the memory of those who served. He said, “There’s no finer group of people I know of who remember their fallen soldiers like the people of Sugar Grove.” Armstrong remarked that he remembered a group of veterans who came from out of state. They told him they wished they could “put Sugar Grove in their pocket and carry it home” because of its support for veterans.
He next introduced the principal speaker of the day, retired United States Air Force officer and former county commission president Gene McConnell. Armstrong said of McConnell that “he’s always thankful of veterans and has worked to help veterans.”
McConnell opened by sharing that he had written a four-page speech on the origins of the day, but had received that morning a text of President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Memorial Day address. He decided to read President Reagan’s words instead “because he described the ‘why.’”
Before starting, he stated that the day is for the “recognition of the people who have gone before . . . the world has never known an equal to what we know in this country today.”
From those words came “I don’t have to tell you how fragile this precious gift of freedom is. Every time we hear, watch, or read the news, we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world.”
McConnell also said, “These things are probably more important today than they were in 1983.”
Next came the reading of the names of the fallen. Allen Moats read off the names of those taken in World War I. Armstrong said prior to introducing Steven O’ Toole’s reading from World War II that “bear with him. It’s his first time and there’s a long list.”
Daniel Roberson and James Koontz read from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, respectively.
Downs then returned to offer the closing prayer and blessing of the picnic lunch, sharing “bless this food for the nourishment of our bodies and enlightenment of our minds.”
Finally came the laying of the wreath and a moment of silence in lieu of “Taps” since no bugle player could attend.
Attendees then lined up to share a freshly grilled lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs. Hot dogs came with homemade chili sauce. An impressive spread of fresh made and delicious desserts also greeted guests.
At the front of the shelter, just to the left of the speakers, hung a display of “Our Boys.” These five very young men, Paul Smith, Roscoe Eckard, Oather Simmons, Frank Pitsenbarger, and Leo Mitchell, left Sugar Grove to fight for freedom in World War II. All died in action within 10 months of each other.
Downs shared that “they’re local guys. Three of them are related to me.” He pointed out that the sister of one of the “boys” was in attendance that day.
“They grew up here in Sugar Grove,” he said, then added that when they first established the VFW Post for Sugar Grove, they decided to name it in honor of all five young men.”
“Our Boys” were not just neighbors, but family to the whole community, then and now. It is most fitting that their legacy remain remembered as a way to also honor the rest.