SIDNEY — Two retired war heroes spoke to hundreds of Shelby County junior high and high school students, veterans and other attendees Friday morning, Sept. 17, at the traveling Vietnam Wall and Field of Crosses exhibit.
Retired Col. David W. Taylor, of Medina, and retired Chief Master Sgt. Steve O’Meara, of Sidney, were the keynote speakers for the school event ceremony at Sidney’s Custenborder Field, which was presented by the Shelby County Historical Society.
“This morning we remember. I volunteered to go to Vietnam and am proud to have served. And as I prepared these remarks several weeks ago, my mind wondered, as is often does as I get close to these occasions,” Taylor said before sharing several stories of fellow veterans he served along side, who were wounded and killed during the Vietnam War.
Taylor’s speech urged those present to remember those veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and regard those sacrifices as payment for the freedom and peace Americans enjoy.
Taylor is a retired colonel, Special Forces, US Army Reserve. He served four years on active duty, including combat in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded twice, and 22 years in the Army Reserve in special operations and counter-terrorism. He is Airborne, Ranger and Special Forces qualified. Taylor is also an author, historian and publisher, specializing in military history.
“I served in Vietnam in 1969, and most of my heroes in life are on the Vietnam Wall,” Taylor said. “I was often asked a question … ‘What made us persevere in Vietnam, day-in and day-out, to go far beyond the ordinary requirements ordained by the wearing of the uniform?’ The answer to that question, it seems to me, has to do with whatever it is that keeps towns like Sidney, unstopped. It has to do with our schools and teachers who challenge us and teach us, and help to guide us in our early years. …”
Taylor said it also has to do with the ethics learned and oaths taken in various organizations such as Boy/Girl Scouts and in sports organizations that stresses honor, dignity, self-control, and to work hard, and together, as a team.
“The answer to that question I faced so long ago, has to do with our ministers, pastors, priests and rabbis, who constantly remind us there is a God. They are someone who we can turn to during times of stress and turmoil, be it stress of combat or everyday life. …,” Taylor said.
He also urged students to strive to live an honorable life like real-life heroes versus the lives of celebrities.
Shelby County Historical Society Executive Director Tilda Philpot who welcomed all at the top of the ceremony, then introduced O’Meara. During that introduction, she became emotional when speaking about Army aviation veteran Cecil Steel, who was a member of her team that helped to bring the Vietnam Wall back to Sidney. She said, through tears, he passed away the previous night and will be missed.
When O’Meara spoke, he gave a detailed picture and highlights of his time and duties in Iraq, where he worked as a firefighter and teacher. He spoke directly to the students, pointing out the war in Afghanistan, that officially ended on Aug. 31, 2021, had been ongoing for their entire lives. He also shared a story about a fellow veteran who was killed in Iraq, whom he said he thinks about every single day. O’Meara also thanked the teachers present with their students for their hard work and adapting and pivoting during the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Meara noted this was similar to how he worked in Iraq with plans regularly changing at a moments notice.
“The names on the wall behind us are from one war. We have names from Iraq, Dessert Storm, and Afghanistan that we need to remember, as well,” said O’Meara.
He told the students, “If history tells us one thing, it’s not a matter of if the country is going to need people to step up, it’s a matter of when. So the generations before us did their job, we did our job, and now we turn it over to you. There are challenges that will have to be met. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, but I know you guys can do it.”
O’Meara served fulltime in the Air Force from 1983-87 and then continued as a reservist through 2008. He survived two deployments to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and retired from the Sidney Fire Department in April 2020. He served as a firefighter, crew chief, assistant crew chief, training assistant, chief of operations, deputy chief and fire chief as he climbed the ranks first at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and then at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn. He was the fire chief on Kirkuk Air Base in Iraq when he earned a Bronze Star. O’Meara developed an inspection program to quell the spate of building fires caused by electrical problems. He also instituted a training program that gave Iraqis basic first aid firefighting and EMS skills.
Other upcoming exhibits during the time the Vietnam Wall will be in Sidney include a Cruise In at the Tawawa Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. Golf carts will be available to transport visitors from Custenborder to the park and back.
The AVTT-TWF Traveling Wall and a field of crosses and flags will be open to the public 24 hours a day through Sept. 19. Events will be in Custenborder Park, 449 Riverside Drive, Sidney. All events are free and open to the public. For information, call 937-498-1653 or visit https://shelbycountyhistory.org/exhibits.htm.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.