Residents carry on tradition at Woodland Cemetery service

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 31, 2004

The Rev. Arthur Dillon and his wife Alberta of Franklin Furnace huddled under umbrellas at Woodland Cemetery Sunday afternoon. The couple was determined to pay their respects to the men and women who sacrificed their times, their youth and in some cases their very lives in service to their country.

"I'm a veteran, and I thought I'd come for the service," Arthur Dillon said. "I don't know when I've ever missed the parade. This is the first time I've been at the cemetery service in a few years."

Dillon knows about service to his country. At one time, he and his three brothers were all in the armed services at the same time, two in the Navy, two in the Army, during World War II.

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With approximately 100 other people, the Dillon braved steady rain Sunday afternoon to attend the annual Woodland Cemetery Service in the soldier's section.

"Today, the Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season for many individuals. It is a time for families and friends to gather for picnics, ball games, a parade and other summer activities," master of ceremonies Brent Pyles said in his opening remarks. "For all of us, it is a time to stop and reflect on our national life, to cherish our freedom and to remember our veterans and what they have done for our country. For that reason, we gather here today, to give thanks that we live in a free nation and to honor those who gave their lives and their service for that blessing."

For Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens, thoughts of veterans who served their country in battle was a personal one. Stephens said he grew up hearing about a great-uncle, Curtis Stephens who had served in World War II with the U.S. Army's Sixth Armored Division, came home from the war and lived a quiet life in Lawrence County.

Although Curtis Stephens had died before the commissioner was born, he had been named in honor of his great uncle. A couple of years ago, Jason Stephens said he was given some of his great-uncle's belongings.

In amongst the dog tags, and other mementos of war was a Silver Star, given to soldiers for "Gallantry in Action." Curtis Stephens' unit had been ambushed by the enemy and some of his buddies had been injured. Curtis Stephens

had held off the enemy long enough for a medic to treat the wounded.

"He was a hero," Jason Stephens said, choking back tears." He was a Lawrence County hero. He was like so many others who fought so we could have freedom. We see veterans every day and often we don't know what sacrifices they made."

In his keynote speech, VFW state commander Gary Pfafe

asked those who attended to remember the ones who are serving their country now as well as those who have done so in the past.

"As we honor the fallen patriots of the past, let us be inspired by the heroes of today," Pfafe said. He said he hoped that the recent prisoner abuse scandal that involved only a few American soldiers would not tarnish the good deed of all the others who were serving their country with honor.

One local soldier was home from the war to accept his community's gratitude.

Randy Guthrie, a member of the Ohio Army National Guard's 216th Engineer Battalion, Ironton detachment, left for Iraq earlier this year but was sent home to recuperate from an illness.

At the end of the ceremony, wreaths were laid by members of the VFW Post 8850 and the ladies' auxiliary. The VFW Post 8850 also provided the gunnery salute and color guard.

Music for the service was provided by the Thundertones barbershop quartet of Huntington, W.Va. Bugler Martin Smith played taps.

The annual cemetery service was one of several local observances this Memorial Day weekend. The 136th annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade is scheduled for 10 a.m. today, preceded by the annual 5K run.