Spit-shined and ironed, dozens of men and women in uniforms thumped and strutted up Lagrange Street yesterday morning when the Polish Village neighborhood turned out for its annual Memorial Day celebration.
In a colorful display of belonging, veterans groups and active-duty military members marched in blue, white, brown, and black, chests glittering with ribbons and medals, hats bristling with pins and patches. Three marching bands twirled school colors on flags and boomed out “This Is My Country.”
Yesterday, as they have done for decades, residents lined the sidewalks of Lagrange Street to watch the parade as it moved from Streicher Street to Mount Carmel Cemetery, where priests in flowing white robes performed a memorial Mass for the nation's fallen fighters.
Bob Crowe, an Air Force veteran, brought his 3-year-old son Justin from their Lewis Avenue home to watch. “It's something new and different for him,” the dad said. He came for his son, not himself, he said. “I don't get too excited about patriotic things. I think I'm past that now.”
Across Lagrange, World War II veteran Al Sawniewski said his marching days are over, but he comes out each year to watch his friends in the parade. “I grew up with a lot of these people. My dad owned the meat market across the street from St. Hedwig. I've lived most of my life on Lagrange Street,” he said. “I'll get over to the Mass, and that will be another Memorial Day.”
In the cemetery, volunteers rotated flag duty as the ministers intoned the rites for about 300 onlookers. Dan Cannode of West Toledo stood tall in his dark Coast Guard dress uniform - the same size 44/35 he wore during his six years of Vietnam combat duty. It still fits. His wife keeps him in shape, he said.
Nearby, Jessie Matthews showed his children how to tell one service branch from the other by uniform colors and insignia.
“I look at all this tradition, and I wish I'd have served,” said Mr. Matthews, a special education teacher at Toledo Public Schools. “My uncles all served. I heard all their stories when I was a boy. We had a family tradition of military service. But with my generation, it kind-of fell away. Thank God for peace, but it would have been nice to wear that uniform.”
Silence fell as two bugles blew “Taps.” Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardsmen, and reservists puffed out their chests and crisply saluted. Other hands bloomed with hankies as eyes filled with tears.
The Polish-American Concert Band burst into a merry “Officer of the Day March” as the gathering broke apart.
Mr. Crowe passed near, with little Justin perched on his shoulders. He stopped and patted his chest with his hand.
“I was wrong, saying it doesn't affect me any more,” he said. “The flag. It still does do that to me. It gets me right here. In the heart.”
Memorial Day celebrations were held throughout the region, including in Bowling Green where Patricia Miller went out of her way to greet Jim Spencer yesterday morning during the town's annual Memorial Day parade.
Even though they didn't know each other, Mrs. Miller wanted her 4-year-old son, Justin, to meet Mr. Spencer, 81, who was taking shade near Wood County's memorial garden in front of the courthouse.
A hat he was sporting signified that Mr. Spencer had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, an achievement that surprised and impressed Mrs. Miller.
“God bless you both,” she said to Mr. Spencer and his lifelong friend and fellow World War II Army buddy, Lefty Snyder, 86, standing nearby.
Mrs. Miller, a Pittsburgh resident in Bowling Green visiting her sister, said her father is a Vietnam veteran and suffers from frequent nightmares since he returned from the war.
“I want my son to understand this and appreciate what these men have done for our country,” she said.