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Veterans struggle to keep memory of sacrifice alive

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From left, Ozzie Hunter and Dan Burmeister join other veterans saluting the flag during sparsely attended Veterans Day ceremonies honoring American veterans of all wars at International Park.

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Vietnam veteran Ozzie Hunter drove around downtown Toledo yesterday frantically searching for the Veterans Day parade - until he realized there wasn't one.

What he found was the American Legion's ceremony at International Park, and the 200 or so veterans gathered to remember the sacrifices of themselves and their peers.

“I guess nobody comes up to see the parade anymore,” he said with a shrug. “A lot of younger people don't even know what the war was about.”

To change that, veteran Richard Zulch advised the veterans to tell their war stories to younger people. They should also write them down or record them on tape or compact disc - lest the horrors of war be forgotten, he said.

“The majority of our young people in this land are not veterans. Nor are their parents. And if they don't hear the story of our history from you, as veterans, who will tell our story?” he told the crowd.

Mr. Zulch, the first vice commander of the American Legion of Ohio, headlined the the speakers.

The Vietnam veteran pointed to some successes in the veterans' movement, particularly the groundbreaking of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The idea was spearheaded by recently deceased Berkey veteran Roger Durbin.

To help raise money for the memorial, balloons were released in Defiance, Monroe, and Sylvania. Each balloon bore the name of a World War II veteran or worker on the homefront. Donors pledged $10 for each balloon.

But many veterans still complained of increasing apathy toward Veterans Day. In Toledo, crowds of up to 25,000 used to line downtown streets for an annual parade, but by 1992 the marchers outnumbered the crowds, and the parade was discontinued.

Since then, the only people who usually show up at the International Park events are veterans, their families, and a handful of elected leaders.

“If vets don't come out here, nobody else will,” Vietnam veteran Dan Burmeister said. “Not too much of the public cares.”

Mr. Burmeister, of Lambertville, was shot in the chest while crossing a river in Vietnam and spent 10 months hospitalized. But he said his sacrifice was minimal compared to others.

“I know guys who put on their legs and their eyeballs every day,” he said.

There are also men like Mr. Hunter, of Toledo, whose combat memories have led to decades battling depression.

“It's been 30 some-odd years, and some of those memories still haunt us today,” he said. “There's no red lights or green lights to know when these flashbacks come on you.

“We have to deal with it in our daily life. No one understands but our fellow comrades,” he said.

World War II veteran Alvin Bell, of Toledo, also pointed to the sacrifices of veterans who escaped with no physical or mental scars.

“A great many people have had two, three, or four years taken out of their lives so we can live in a country that's free,” Mr. Bell said.

The irony, said veteran Bob McCloskey, is that veterans have done their jobs so well that younger generations don't have to worry as much about war. So they don't pay as much attention to Veterans Day.

Mr. McCloskey, a Toledo councilman, said he had to smile during the national anthem at a high-school basketball game when he saw the players fidgeting.

“They weren't thinking about the national anthem,” he said. “They were thinking about starting their ball game. And I thought, `What a great place to live.'

“Maybe somebody needs to make these young people aware of this country of ours, and the reason they get to sit here and play basketball and enjoy their high school years,” he said. “I think that's the job of all of us who served our country.”

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