Throughout history, the powerful have ordered common soldiers onto the battlefield to die for reasons often unknown to the front line.
But those who fought and died for the United States have never done at the will of one party, one group, or one man, historian and veteran Stephen Johnson III said Monday in a Memorial Day ceremony.
“Our military has served through a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he told those who gathered at Wright Memorial Park to pay their respects. “And whatever the cause or reason for the conflict, our nation’s men and women have served only because their country asked — either through a draft instituted by a duly-elected Congress or through voluntary enlistment. So it has been since 1775, when a few bedraggled patriots stood at the bridge that arched the flood.”
Johnson is an Oberlin High School graduate and served a year in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. He later worked 25 years as a music teacher and band director in the Oberlin City Schools.
He spoke Monday of the Oberlin men and women sent to fight in every conflict since the Civil War, including a full 18 percent of the town’s population during World War II.
Johnson recently returned from a trip to Germany and Poland, where he visited places where evil in its cruelest form was carried out.
“It made me ponder what it was that made men into beasts, humans into creatures of depravity,” he said. “However, it also made me wonder about those who fought against such evil, whether it be by an act of mere survival or an act upon the battlefield.
“Despite unendurable hardships, despite a terror that cannot be surpassed, some displayed a tenacity, a courage unimaginable. What would happen if we here today should be called to such a cause? How would we react? Would we have the personal fortitude and courage displayed by our forbears?”
During the ceremony, local veterans raised the flag to half staff while the Oberlin High School band played the National Anthem.
A memorial wreath was placed by VFW Post 6273 Auxiliary members at the Wright Memorial Wall where many names of Oberlin residents lost in the call of service are listed.
Not all names have been so recorded in bronze, however. Johnson has long been working to create a definitive history of those who gave all.
Also recognized were Abigail Williams and Carson Odle, students at First Baptist Christian School, who read their scholarship-winning patriotic essays.
Williams wrote the sacrifices made by her oldest brother, who is enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and has served five tours of duty in the Middle East. Odle argued against the removal of Confederate statues, saying he believes they are a teaching tool about the evils of slavery but that the people they depict should be honored for bravery.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.