SIDNEY — The spirit of 165 Shelby County servicemen hovered over the East Court Street Bridge Tuesday morning during a rededication ceremony that remembered their sacrifices.
“There are 130 men (from World Wars I and II) who are not with us today as they gave their lives for the county and country,” said Rich Wallace, who served as master of ceremonies. Wallace is secretary of the Shelby County Historical Society, who coordinated the event.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, 12th District, was the keynote speaker. Others participating were a representative of Gov. John Kasich’s office, the mayor of Sidney, a county commissioner, veterans representatives and five high school bands.
Thirty-seven Shelby County men who fought during World War I, 94 who fought during World War II, 16 who battled in Korea, 17 who served in Vietnam and one soldier during the Persian Gulf War made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“We have to make sure this number doesn’t remain just a number. That’s a number we need to personalize to others,” said Wallace.
The rededication of the bridge Tuesday honored all Shelby County residents who lost their lives while fighting for their country in the many wars in which the United States has deployed members of the military.
Carleen Petitt shared her story of being a young bride and losing her husband during the Vietnam War. Petitt was married to Bob Gold when she was 19 years old.
“Thank you for the privilege to share my story,” said Petitt. “Bob Gold graduated from Sidney High School in 1965. He would have celebrated his 50- year class reunion this year.”
He was the lead singer of a band and “everyone loved him,” shared Petitt. “John Johnson, who was a U.S. Marine, was his best friend. He (Gold) lived next door to the house where I used to babysit.”
Gold was a year older than Petitt and he was drafted into the Army in September 1965, which was Petitt’s senior year of high school. They were married in 1966 and they had 28 days together before he was deployed to Vietnam.
“I was truly loved and cherished,” she said. “On Feb. 26, 1967, he was killed in Vietnam.”
Gold was shot and even though he was wounded, was able to get across the road to other members of his unit. He got to them and was shot again.
Gold was presented the Bronze Medal with Valor and a Purple Heart.
“I know the sacrifices the families go through,” she said. “I was a widow at 19. There are scars and wounds both visible and invisible when they (soldiers) return home. Never let us forget their sacrifices.”
A bridge, said Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, connects two areas together.
“Most of us take bridges for granted,” said Barhorst. “When they are being repaired, we grumble about having to take a detour, but we find a way around the obstacle.”
Barhorst shared a story about Scott Mestamaker, who joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Africa. He lived in a town which was divided by a chasm. In order to get from one side of the town to the other, the people either had to walk around the chasm, which took 45 minutes, or slide down the ravine into the water, cross the water and climb out on the other side.
Many, he said, would just yell back and forth across the chasm.
“He was determined to build a bridge over the chasm,” said Barhorst. “Ten years later, the bridge is still there.”
That story, he said, is similar to the Court Street Bridge’s history. In 1919, residents in Sidney determined there was a need for a bridge so they could cross the Great Miami River. In 1930, a group was formed to keep the issue alive.
The project for the bridge to be built was approved in 1940 by the Ohio Department of Transportation. Construction began shortly after that, only to be stopped by the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Work resumed on the bridge in 1945.
“On June 15, 1946, the bridge was completed,” said Barhorst. “On Oct. 13, 1946, the bridge was dedicated to the 37 World War I and 94 World War II Shelby County soldiers who died.”
The bridge was dedicated by Ohio Gov. Frank J. Lausche.
“On Sept. 1, we rededicate the bridge,” said Barhorst, “… to all who gave their lives. And today is the 76th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, the day Germany invaded Poland.”
The Court Street Bridge, said Wallace, is the connecting point for Sidney to the east side of the county.
Shelby County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said coming together for the rededication is an example of the freedom Americans have, thanks to the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for this country.
“A gathering like this, in a lot of places doesn’t happen,” said Bornhorst. “They have given their last sacrifice for this country, this county, so that we can gather.
“It is fitting that on this structure that we can go on into the future,” he continued. “We honor those who have served and those currently serving our country. And those who will serve in the future. To the Shelby County Historical Society, you have done due diligence in making this a historical event. Shelby County is a great place to work, live and make the next generation.”
In his keynote address, Faber said every year the legislature honors the Ohioans who lost their lives serving their country.
“I prayed there would be no reason for a ceremony in 2015,” said Faber. “My prayer was not answered as we lost six brave Ohioans who were someone’s son, brothers and fathers. God’s ways are not always our own.”
Because the American military forces were there, “prayers halfway around the world were answered,” he said.
Members of the military, he said, step into harm’s way when others won’t or can’t.
“When the shots ring out and the bombs go off, they run toward the noise,” said Faber.
Each member of the military is known for loyalty, duty to country, respect for others.
“They have answered the nation’s call to arms,” said Faber. “They answered the prayers of those who are oppressed.”
Faber said he hopes every family can find peace with their loved ones’ service and that their sacrifices are never forgotten.
“As you drive over this bridge … do it with a silent prayer of thanks for the sacrifices and those who continue to sacrifice,” he said. “If and when the time comes, our nation of warriors will answer the call and run toward the noise. God bless the freedom that has been brought by the sacrifices of those before us,” he said.
Sandra Brassington, who represented Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, said Tuesday’s ceremony means a lot to her, as she is the mother of an active duty soldier.
“In 1946, the governor dedicated the bridge. Today this is a reminder of the price we pay for freedom,” said Brassington. “Remember all of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. They are heroes who will never be forgotten. Please remember those in current service to their country in the military in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.”
Petitt and Tilda Phlipot, Shelby County Historical Society director, unveiled the new plaque, which is placed on the bridge.
The posting of the colors was performed by Sidney VFW Post 4239, while the 21-gun salute was completed by Sidney American Legion Post 217.
Sidney High School band director Chris Adams directed the combined bands of Sidney, Anna, Fairlawn, Houston and Jackson Center high schools for the playing of the national anthem.
Faber complemented the bands after their performance.
“To hear the bands play together, it was phenomenal. You did a great job,” said Faber.
U.S. Air Force veteran Jim Moorman led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Ed Ball, Shelby County Veterans Service Commission officer, offered the prayer.
The event was sponsored by the Shelby County Historical Society, the city of Sidney and the Thomas V. and Corinne R. Francis Family Foundation.