ASHLAND – It was a day for heroes.
Ashland celebrated Memorial Day with its traditional community parade and ceremony, but the holiday took on special significance this year with the debut of two new exhibits honoring military heroes from the area.
The day began with the annual parade Monday morning, as the citizens of Ashland lined Silver Street to watch Ashland American Legion Post 129’s Color Guard, Auxiliary and Legion Riders march down the brick-lined streets, followed by the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, Cornhusker Division and the local Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops.
Following the parade, the Legion presented the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Ashland Cemetery’s Memorial Circle.
In District 7 Adjutant Boyd Yochum’s memorial address, he praised the service members killed in action that are not among the ranks of well-known military heroes, but are heroes just the same.
His examples included Lt. Sharon Lane, the only female nurse killed by enemy fire in Vietnam. He also spoke of Eric Ohm and Michael Scott, both from the Ashland area, who died in Vietnam.
“They didn’t have medals like Audie Murphy or fame like Sgt. York, but they were just as much heroes,” Yochum said.
Yochum lost friends and fellow soldiers while serving in Vietnam, including “Big John” Hendricks, another hero who is not found in the history books.
“The hardest part of being a soldier, airman or sailor is the tragic loss of life of our fellow men in arms,” he said.
Following the ceremony at the cemetery, around 80 people attended a dedication ceremony to mark the installation of the Heroes Banners along Highway 6. The ceremony was held at Great Plains Service.
Brad Pfeiffer, president of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, initiated the project to honor veterans and active duty service members from the local area.
With the “UP version of a flyover” (a.k.a., a train rumbling on the tracks in the background), U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ron Garner said the soldiers, airmen and sailors on the banners were honorably discharged or current active duty service members.
Of all the names on the 39 banners that will decorate Highway 6 from Wagner’s Car Wash to the intersection of Highway 66, only one did not return home, Garner said. That was Sgt. Merle Martin, who was killed in action along the front lines in Germany near the end of World War II.
Garner said he looked up the definition of “hero” while preparing his speech. The definitions he found described heroes as people who face danger and combat adversity with feats of courage, bravery and strength. Another definition said heroes are admired for great acts or fine qualities. They are also defined as protectors.
“I think all these heroes fit those definitions,” Garner said.
Most of the service members on the banners did the job they were trained for with honor and dignity, but they would not claim to be heroes, Garner said. Yet they should be regarded as such.
“They are the heroes of our community and of our families for having served,” he said.
Ashland Mayor Rick Grauerholz said the banners honor heroes who protected our flag, our constitution and other symbols of our freedom.
“I do not personally know all these heroes, but I do know what all these heroes did for our country,” he said.
Pfeiffer and Garner worked with American Legion Post 129 and the VFW Post 9776 in Ashland on the Heroes Banner project. Pfeiffer said the banners will remain along Highway 6 from Memorial Day to Labor Day this year and next year. Due to the heat, only 12 of the 39 banners were installed before the ceremony.
In 2020, a new set of banners honoring 39 more veterans will be installed.
Pfeiffer also worked with the local veterans organizations to help Lynn and Rob Spackman create a display of photos and a video of local military heroes that they hope will become a traveling exhibit.
“This will probably be something that we take around and can use for events,” Lynn Spackman said.
Two years ago at their retail space, the Market on Silver Street, the Spackmans started displaying photos of family members who had served in the military. As they talked to community members and heard the stories of their family members who served in war and peace time, they started expanding the photo gallery.
This year, the display includes photos of soldiers, airmen and sailors, as well as military memorabilia.
A special addition was a video that shows Ashland during World War II. The original movie was converted to digital format by Kent Rung.
Filmed in 1942 and 1943 by Lloyd Martin and narrated by Martin along with Dale Rung, the video is titled “Ashland Warriors That Went to War.”
The film shows men in uniform and in civilian clothes. Some are just smiling. Others are singing, and a couple even give a kiss to a beautiful girl at their side.
It is a snapshot of Ashland as the community sent a generation of young men to war. There are names that are familiar – Lutton, Warbritton, Kolb, Harnsberger, Decker, Pilford, Vosler, Fudge, Bowers. One segment is titled, “The Barta Gang.”
A film showing heroes heading off to war, banners memorializing local military heroes and the community’s annual ceremony honoring heroes who fought to keep our country free.