Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Flag volunteers honor deceased veterans in Sylvania

Team ensures each grave gets proper attention


Martin Doll of Temperance cuts away the growth over the gravestone at Toledo Memorial Park in Sylvania for Walter Pietrzak, Jr., who served in the Navy in World War ll. The Toledo-Lucas County Memorial Day Association ensures that veterans’ graves are marked with a U.S. flag on Memorial Day.

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One by one, a single American flag is planted in the ground, each one accompanied by a solitary moment of honor for the veteran whose gravestone it will grace for the next year.

Although Memorial Day is technically a commemorative holiday for those who lost their lives in military service, the 500 war veterans whose Toledo Memorial Park graves Izzy Ortiz and his team of about 15 volunteers marked with flags under gray, blustery skies Thursday included many who had died years after their last battle.

“One day I’m gonna be there, and I am passionate about my veterans. And, my goodness, when we put that flag in the ground, it makes you feel wonderful,” said Mr. Ortiz, a 66-year-old Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, who has placed Memorial Day flags since 1989.

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Their flags will wave in solidarity with those from other volunteers who, before Toledo's Memorial Day parade Saturday, will place 12,700 flags at Toledo Memorial Park in Sylvania and a total of 43,000 others at cemeteries across Lucas County, an effort coordinated by the Toledo-Lucas County Memorial Day Association.

For Mike Morrison, a civilian among Mr. Ortiz' mostly veteran crew, planting memorial flags for the first time was an opportunity to honor his father, Leland, who served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“He didn’t talk a lot about the military ... it wasn’t something he liked to talk about,” Mr. Morrison said. “We learned to respect our warriors.”

Accompanied by veterans Hector Flores and Brian Cahill, Mr. Morrison walked between the rows of graves, searching for every veteran.

Mr. Flores, 65, who was stationed with the Army in Panama from 1967 to 1970, said flag placement revives memories of men who served with him.

“I think of a friend of mine from high school, we graduated together. A few of them from back home didn’t make it back,” said the Toledo resident, a son of a migrant farm worker who served in the Army and brother of two Navy sailors.

“There were more than 3,000 casualties who were Latino in the Vietnam War,” said Mr. Ortiz, a fourth-generation Mexican-American and a Vietnam history buff. “Those that died were 18 or 19, as opposed to the average age of 26 for World War II.”

The team included some military wives too, including Connie Dewalt, who moved to Toledo in the 1960s after marrying Larry Herdman, whom she had met while he was stationed at a Navy base in Puerto Rico. Mr. Herdman died in the late 1990s.

“I have a bond with the military because that is how I came here, I married a serviceman,” said Ms. Dewalt, who winters in Puerto Rico but makes a point to be back in the States for flag decoration.

Celia Ortiz, Mr. Ortiz’s wife, made sure all the flags were in proper alignment.

“I’m quality control,” she joked.

After decorating each grave, the team lined up. Each volunteer called a name of one military soul who passed on.

After a call of “Attention,” bugler Martin Doll, out of sight, sounded Taps.

The somber melody echoed overhead, and the volunteers gave one last salute to the graves and the hundreds of waving American flags.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or

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