Belpre ceremony honors veterans

BELPRE – About 100 people gathered in a crowded room at Leavitt Funeral Home in Belpre for a Memorial Day service on Monday to honor and remember local veterans.

The program was organized by American Legion Post 495, the ladies auxiliary in Belpre and funeral home officials and was moved indoors Monday morning due to rainy and chilly weather.

A wreath was laid in memory of fallen soldiers as well as a rifle salute and the playing of “Taps” heard by attendees from inside the funeral home.

Mayor Mike Lorentz and Lt. Col Jay Offenberger attended the ceremony.

Offenberger, a Williamstown native, said he was honored to have the opportunity to speak in a different venue about his military services, past and present. He is currently commander of the 772nd Aviation Troop Command located at the Williamstown Readiness Center in Williamstown. The battalion headquarters is responsible for administrative, training and logistical military support. Offenberger has more than enough experience having received several military honors.

He spoke about the importance of honoring those who have come before, veteran or not. He said although younger generations will become in charge of Memorial Day services- with the passing of more veterans from previous wars including World War II, Korea and Vietnam – they will remember through the legacy left behind for them.

“Relationships are built on stories,” Offenberger said to the crowd. “Tell stories to grandkids, aunts and uncles; I know it’s hard but it will stay with people and the next generation will feel connected.”

Offenberger said although war is becoming less personal because America is growing, the local communities must continue to honor veterans and fallen heroes. He told a personal story about a near-death encounter to the crowd of family, friends and war veterans.

He was scheduled to fly a helicopter from the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, to Cyprus, a small, safe country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. However, he had received a call from his commander he was not to fly the next day because a new recruit was being trained. The helicopter crashed about three miles from the airport base Offenberger was standing in to escort his team back to their base.

“I was supposed to be on that flight,” he said. “I thank God every day (I was able to come home to my family).”

He read the names of his fallen comrades aloud.

Dana Fouss, manager of Leavitt Funeral Home in Belpre, said this was the seventh year for the ceremony and only the second time it had to be held indoors. Fouss and funeral home officials did something different this year by honoring local veterans in a different way. Officials read the names, printed on certificates, of those killed in the line of duty or who have passed after serving. The names were printed on certificates of appreciation of service presented by the United States government, Fouss said.

Several area residents stood to receive the certificate in honor of their deceased loved ones.