Memorial Day parades and services were held on Monday, May 29 in Barnesville, Belmont and Bethesda. The featured speaker at Barnesville's service held at the Veteran's Plaza was Mitchell Rataiczak, a Green Beret Staff Sargent in the United States Army. He is a graduate of Union Local High School and The Ohio State University. Speakers also included Legion Auxiliary President Lori Gibson, Mayor Dale Bunting, VFW Auxiliary President Betty Gray, and 2017 Miss Poppy Madelyn Skinner.

New to the ceremony this year was a non-motorized parade which included members of the American Legion Post 168, VFW, color guard, honor guard, police force, fire department, Girl Scouts, and the Barnesville Community Alumni Band The public was also invited to participate in the parade.

In Belmont, the parade was led by Belmont Police unit, American Legion and the Union Local band. In Belmont Cemetery, the American Legion Post 3312 posted Colors at the podium and the ULHS band played selected patriotic music. The invocation and benediction were given by Rev. Teresa Bobot, followed by the introduction of Belmont Mayor Stan Sobel by Legion Commander Ed Blon. The Legion conducted a rifle salute. the ULHS band played TAPS, followed by the Star Spangled Banner.

Mayor Sobel gave the history and purpose of Memorial Day. He called for a moment of silence for all those who died in the service of our country. He thanked all those who served and sacrificed their lives. Sobel thanked Belmont American Legion Post 3312, Commander Blon and all the veterans who marched in the parade. He thanked the "impressive, award-winning" Union Local marching band under the direction of April Linard. Sobel thanked the cemetery maintenance crew for their hard work and Kenny Davis and Joe Braido for setting up the speaker system for the event. He said he was proud to see so many young people marching in the parade.

The speaker was Vietnam War era and U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Farmer. He is a member and past commander of American Legion Post #159 in St. Clairsville; a member of the Legion Riders in both St. Clairsville and Barnesville; a member of the Belmont County Veterans Association Honor Guard, a member and past first vice commander of Belmont County Council of the American Legion Honor Guard. Farmer lives near Morristown-Flushing Road with his wife, Claudia. They have four children and six grand-children.

Farmer praised the turnout at Belmont's service. He said it was a great honor to be the speaker that day. Farmer acknowledged Blon for his dedication in local veteran's funerals.

"As we look across this cemetery and we see all the American flags fluttering in the breeze, it is amazing to think that each and everyone of those flags represent a man or woman who was willing to give all they had for your and my freedom. In most cases on Memorial Day we think about those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and that's true, but I like to include in those people, those veterans who are no longer here for us to be able to say thank you to and I think that's very important," he said. "Programs like this are our way of saying thank you to those who are no longer with us."

He said that while many will mark the day with personal joys such as BBQs and swimming, golfing and spending time with their families, most will miss the importance of this holiday. He said those who gave everything for our freedom should be remembered everyday not just on Memorial Day.

Farmer talked about the public protests during the Viet Nam War and said that veterans then and now, protect the right of Americans to protest, but American citizens should remember that the troops do not make the policies and they should support them.

He said POWs, MIAs and their families should also be remembered and often get "lost in the shuffle" no matter what war they served in.

In Bethesda, the Memorial Day service followed a Veterans Service in Ebeneezer Cemetery and a parade and was part of a dedication ceremony of the Murray Family Memorial Plaza. The featured speaker for the American Legion Post #90's service was Rich Lucas. The service included a welcome by Mayor Marty Lucas, the playing of the National Anthem by the Union Local High School Marching Band, the honor guard firing ceremony and the playing of Taps for Our Fallen Soldiers. The service was led by Post #90 Commander Bruce Miller.

As in Belmont, Bethesda Mayor Marty Lucas also noted that while Memorial Day was celebrated with picnics and BBQs, "Not all Americans today are celebrating this day with such spirit and enthusiasm. Some families may not have that picnic or BBQ in the backyard. Some children may not be holding their father's hand as the band marches past. Mothers may be still staring at the flag flying at half staff. So today let us take a moment out of our celebration to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day and the sacrifices that are military make and will make for each and every one of us," Lucas said.

Rich Lucas said he was privileged and honored to be there as a veteran in Belmont County. He served three tours in the Middle East 45 years ago. "All I wanted to do was come home to my wife and my six-month old child," he said. "I am blessed to be one of the veterans to be able to return." Lucas said he also has the honor of placing flags on the veteran's graves in the Wayne Township Cemetery dating back to the Revolutionary War.

"This is what it is all about, to be able to do these things," he said referring to the clock tower and plaza. "To think that this was a vacant lot less than a year ago. I've never seen anything so awesome in my entire life and I will forever be grateful."

Music for the dedication ceremony was provided by the Union Local High School band and choir, directed by Larry Compston and James Ellis and band director April Linard. Boy Scout Troop #23 of Shadyside performed the raising of the flag. Bethesda Village Administrator Dirk Davis served as the master of ceremonies. Rev. Tim Snyder gave the invocation. Local historians Mike McCormick and Dan Lucas spoke about the history of the clock and the ground on which the plaza now sits. Robert E. Murray was the keynote speaker. The dedication concluded with a ribbon cutting with Mr. Murray and his family, Mayor Lucas, council, and all veterans in attendance. Rev. Tom Detling gave the benediction. Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton was also present for the ceremony. (Read more about the dedication on Page A1).