Summit County remembers fallen soldiers in Memorial Day ceremony at Dillon Cemetery
Lillian Bickel knows the grief of a loved one gone missing in action, and when she asked if anyone in the audience had family members killed in service, more than a dozen hands went up Monday at Dillon Cemetery.
As Dillon offered an open mic during the town’s annual Memorial Day remembrance ceremony, a solemn reminder about why a nation honors its fallen soldiers ensued with a half-dozen people seizing the opportunity.
In her remarks, Bickel said her story is so long, she’ll have to tell it in installments. She revealed the first part Monday and vowed to return over the coming years to finish it.
She and Maj. James W. Grace were childhood sweethearts, and they married at age 19, she recalled. Bickel remembered her husband got his college education and then went on to the Air Force to become a fighter pilot.
“He was a top gun,” Bickel said of her beau. “He was a great fighter pilot.”
On June 14, 1969, though, Bickel received a call that Air Force officers were headed to her house. She knew something wasn’t right because it was midnight.
After Bickel answered the door, she said, the officers read her a letter saying that her husband had been shot down that afternoon over Laos and that the rescue attempt had failed.
But that’s merely the beginning of her story, Bickel said before adding that anyone who comes back next year will get to hear the next piece of her story.
“I just want to remember my teammates,” said Don Karpowich, who served in the Air Force during the 1980s and 1990s.
After taking the platform, he fought back tears as he said their seven names into the mic.
“I love you guys,” Karpowich continued. “I miss you, and I’m going to tell your families what happened … Rest in peace. I won’t let you be forgotten.”
A well-known veteran of World War II and the Korean War living in Summit County, Stuart “Boot” Gordon couldn’t help but crack a few jokes before taking a more serious moment to remember the friends he lost in war and ask what we can do for them today.
“I believe the best way is to make earth a little better than it is now, in other words a heavenly place,” Gordon said.
Seeing the day from another prism, Joy Woodworth asked people to support the families, as she detailed her family’s deep history of service, mostly in the Marines, and talked about her son, 2017 Summit High School grad Matthew McBrearty, and his decision to take the same path.
“It’s a terrifying thing to be a new Blue Star Family, and that’s what we are,” Woodworth said as she fought back tears. “Telling somebody that he’s going to be fine, we know he may not be.”
But for her, the pride of her son’s service rises above the fear something could happen to her child. She’s an extremely proud “Blue Star mom,” and knowing what military families go through, she suggested that other parents with children in the armed forces might want to visit the website, BlueStarMothers.org, to learn more about the group.
Dave Owens owns a Purple Heart medal after serving in Vietnam, and he hammered home “the real reason” Americans should take time to be thankful on Memorial Day.
“I think the most obvious evidence of cost of war is in the tens of thousands of gravestones at places like Arlington National Cemetery, Normandy beach, other places across the country and the grave stones in Dillon,” he said.
At one point during the town’s Memorial Day ceremony, Sgt. Cale Osborn of the Dillon Police Department read aloud 52 names of people killed in service of their country who’ve been interred at the cemetery with the Star-Spangled Banner hanging from a fire truck’s ladder and waving in the background.
Music was provided by the Summit Concert Band, local Boy and Cub Scouts helped handle flags, and the ceremony came complete with renderings for a soldiers’ memorial at the cemetery.
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