Lt. Col. Paul Muller told his audience the sad truth: the true meaning of Memorial Day has faded over time.
“The day is punctuated by time off of work or school, backyard barbecues, and furniture sales,” he said. “It’s easy for us as Americans to take our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy for granted because we don’t know anything else. However, it’s important to realize there are places in this world where people don’t share the same deep commitment to their country in the way we do here in America.”
The 1997 Wauseon High School graduate was the featured speaker Monday at the city’s annual Memorial Day celebration in Wauseon Union Cemetery. Currently serving at the Space and Missile System Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Muller called the holiday “a solemn occasion for those who sacrificed their lives for our country, but also a joyous occasion for those who are still here and able to enjoy the freedoms that those who sacrificed guaranteed.”
His comments followed a full program that began with a parade that extended from the city building on Clinton Street to the cemetery. Participants included the city police and fire departments, the high school marching band, and local Boy Scout Pack 8.
After the posting of colors by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and VFW Color Guard, those in attendance sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mark Mahlman, past commander of American Legion Post #265, introduced nine military veterans who chose to be recognized, including representatives of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Ceremony host Judge James Barber rang a bell during a “Last Call” segment that named 19 members of the American Legion who have died this year. They include Edward Altman, Doyle Bernath, James Blosser, Charles Bryan, Frank Donnett, James Gype, Thomas Huffman, Delores Mandel, Larry O’Brien, Herbert Rising, Juan Rodriguez, James Sattler, Richard Shinners, Robert Smith, Kenneth Stephens, James Studenka, William Tanner, Howard Torrence, and Gaylord Wagner.
The WHS choral group performed, and the marching band played a medley of armed forces themes to permit veterans to stand and be recognized. He also awarded several Wauseon students who won honors in an Americanism essay contest.
Muller, a graduate of the Reserve Officer Training Corp program of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, had also been deployed to Afghanistan to lead a joint U.S./Afghan team. The team chose Afghan soldiers and pilots for training in the U.S. in an effort to secure Afghanistan’s borders against terrorism and to stabilize the government.
Unfortunately, Muller said, once some of those soldiers entered the U.S. they chose to run rather than train to fight. He said their actions left an impression on him.
“Not only because the Afghan soldiers’ fear of dying outweighed their sense of duty to their country, but also because America still represents the ideas it was was created upon: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “For these young men, being a fugitive in America was preferable to returning home because it meant that they had a chance at a real life.”
Serving in a foreign country that suffers a tangible sense of hopelessness made him realize how much he values his freedoms, Muller said. He added, “We can thank those who sacrificed their lives for this luxury…Think again of those Americans who died, both inside and outside of our country, to first establish our freedoms, and then ensure that we never lose them.”
He said TV commentators and reporters would have U.S. citizens believe the country is in the midst of a serious political and moral divide.
“American is not the people you see on TV or hear on the radio, telling you what to fear. They’re looking to divide us,” Muller said. “America is all of us, coming together to preserve the rich traditions, diversity, and principles that this county was founded on. (L)et’s take a step back and remember that all of these soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen died because they swore an oath to protect the Constitution and preserve our ways of life.”
The program ended with a presentation of memorial wreaths and a three-volley rifle salute accompanied by the playing of “Taps.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.