Twice a year, organizers at the Medina County Veterans Memorial Hall look for a way to honor veterans in Medina.
“It’s our way to thank our veterans for the sacrifices they made,” said Michael K. Paul, president of the Memorial Hall. “Because of them, we have the freedoms we have today.”
About 35 to 40 veterans were brought to a luncheon Thursday from assisted-living facilities Elmcroft, Brookdale Medina and Western Reserve Masonic.
“Virtually all of them were in combat,” Paul said. “That is something we never talk about. That’s not something that puts a smile on your face. Everyone here is happy to be alive and still serving our country.”
In order to have more veterans in attendance at future events, organizers said they will expand the program to any veterans in Medina County. Paul said there are about 14,000 veterans in the county.
There are four chapters that belong to Memorial Hall: Vietnam Veterans of America Post 385, American Veterans Post 1990, American Legion Post 202 and Disabled Veterans of America Post 72.
They hope to add a new chapter, the Desert Warriors, for veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The veterans in attendance shared stories of their time in Vietnam, the Korean conflict and World War II. That included Medina’s Ralph Waite, 90, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge.
“He’s a mainstay of the Legion post here,” said Ray Hewitt, captain of the American Legion Post 202 Honor Guard. “He’s the rock.”
Waite graduated from Medina High School in 1944. Six months later, he was off to the war.
He was taken “across the pond” on Queen Mary.
“I went on a cruise!” he said. “There were 15,000 18-year-old kids that went on a one-week cruise.”
Waite, who was serving in the U.S. Army’s 99th Infantry, promptly went into battle in bitterly cold weather. He served two years in the armed forces and came home in 1946.
An elementary school in Medina is named for the former school board president and co-founder of the Medina City Schools Foundation. Waite also is known as the longtime director of Waite & Son Funeral Homes.
The oldest veteran at the luncheon was former Marine Demetry Bakan, 96, who lives at Brookdale Medina.
Hewitt, who is also the first vice commander of the Memorial Hall, said he fought in Vietnam.
“I saw it all,” he said. “It made us grow up.”
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.