Guest column/Ohio legislators have honored local veterans

As we celebrate another Memorial Day, it is important to remember that the purpose of the holiday is to honor those who gave the supreme sacrifice for their country. The Ohio Legislature recently honored local veterans for their service and sacrifice. One veteran and his family were honored for giving his life for his country. On Tuesday, the Ohio General Assembly met in a joint convention to recognize recipients of the Military Medal of Distinction. The Medal of Distinction was created through passage of Senate Bill 248 during the 127th General Assembly to honor those Ohio service members who have fallen while serving our country.

Marine Lance Cpl. Randy M. Heck, who was assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, died on March 28, 2010, in Djibouti, Africa. Heck joined the Marines in June 2007 and was promoted to lance corporal and served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Steubenville resident joined the military immediately after graduation from Harrison Central High School. Heck was the son of Everett and Theresa Black of Amsterdam and Eugene Heck of Steubenville.

Fifteen other members of the military were honored with the Military Medal of Distinction. We should all take time to recognize and honor those who have died in service of our country. Our area has a long history of sending brave men and women off to fight for their country. Just in Belmont, Jefferson and Monroe counties, there have been 15 men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Many of us remember the sacrifice that the small village of Beallsville made during the Vietnam War. Six soldiers from Beallsville were killed in Vietnam, the worst per capita loss of life experienced by any place in the country.

Our country must also remember those who never returned. We should never rest until all those missing in action have been brought back to their families. It is often left to private citizens to lead this effort. This began when Clara Barton started the Missing Soldiers Office near the end of the Civil War after being frustrated with the fact that nearly half of the estimated 750,000 dead were never identified. In the words of Barton, “The true patriot willingly loses his life for his country – these poor men have lost not only their lives, but the very record of their death. Common humanity would plead that an effort be made to restore their identity. The wife released her husband – and the mother sent forth her son – and they were nobly given to their country for its necessities. But never has wife or mother agreed that for the destruction of her treasures no account should be rendered her. I hold these men in the light of government property – unaccounted for.”

The Legislature also has been honoring veterans who have served their country and have returned from the military to serve their community. The Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame was created in 1992 to recognize post-military achievements of all veterans. Charter members of the hall include the veterans who were elected president and all Medal of Honor recipients. As mentioned before, Belmont, Jefferson and Monroe had 15 Medal of Honor recipients. Other veterans from these counties have also been inducted into the hall. Most recently, Jack Ernest from Jefferson County was inducted.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack during the 2012 induction in the Riffe Center. Jack founded the Welcome Home Ministries to work with Vietnam veterans and other veterans through counseling and assistance.

It is now a worldwide ministry. He has returned to Vietnam more than 40 times to assist the poor and orphans. Jack is truly an amazing man and deserving of being in the hall.

In 2011, former Belmont County Sheriff Richard Stobbs, a Vietnam veteran, was inducted into the hall. He worked to coordinate legislative efforts to make the Gold Star license plate a reality in Ohio. Dick remains active with many groups in Ohio. In 2010, Edward Fellabaum, a Monroe County Korean War Veteran, was placed in the hall of fame. Edward has been involved with the Boy Scouts since 1944 and is active in helping veterans. My good friend, Herman Zerger, was added to the hall in 2008. A World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, Herman has served in local government and as Democratic Party chair. He also had a successful business for more than 50 years.

In 1994, Richard Hoagland, a World War II veteran from Jefferson County, was inducted. He was a founding member of the Great Lakes Veterans Group and was instrumental in protecting veterans’ rights and starting a van service for veterans to Pittsburgh for care.

Whether they gave their life in service to their country, or served in the military and came home to help people, we should honor all veterans for their service.

(Cera, D-Bellaire, represents the 96th District in Ohio’s General Assembly. The district includes Jefferson and Monroe counties, as well as a portion of Belmont County.)