NORTH BALTIMORE 2015 MEMORIAL DAY COMMEMORATION
The following is the text presented by Tom Boltz, a member of Legion Post #539.
By Tom Boltz
I am honored to participate in today’s commemoration. Some of my earliest memories of growing up in North Baltimore are of watching the Memorial Day parade on Main Street in the late 1940s. In those days, the veterans participating were from the World Wars and Korea and I was impressed by their desire to honor their fallen comrades.
Now I am one of those old vets–a veteran of the Vietnam War. As such I personally honor the memory of the men with whom I served in the 1st Infantry Division in 1967 and 1968 and especially those who gave their lives in that conflict. I am a descendent of 3 great grandfathers who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. I think of their sacrifices. One of them, George Chase, is buried here in Maplewood cemetery.
Today, we honor all of North Baltimore and Henry Township military. They have played a part in nearly all of America’s military conflicts. Their service is an important link between our local history and our national history.
Even before the first settlers built their log cabins here, the land upon which this very cemetery exists was a campground for an American army. In June 1812, General William Hull’s army camped for one night on this spot while they marched through the Black Swamp. They were on their way to Detroit to fight the British during the War of 1812. One of these soldiers died in an accident near here and is buried in an unmarked grave not far up Rocky Ford Creek from where we now stand. Several early Henry Township settlers were War of 1812 veterans and are also buried in the old pioneer cemeteries near here.
During the Civil War, approximately 2000 Wood County men enlisted in the Union Army. 30 of them were from Henry Township. Of these soldiers, 9 perished from being killed in action, from disease, or from starvation in Confederate prison camps. This was a substantial number considering that only 450 people lived in the township at that time. It is unfortunate that the names of these local Union Army war dead, although known, are nowhere recorded on a local monument.
Maplewood Cemetery also contains the graves of veterans from other American wars. Buried here is at least one army veteran of the Indian wars of the late 1800s and several from the Spanish-American War. In 1898, Company K of the 2nd Ohio National Guard Infantry Regiment was based in North Baltimore. Company K’s members were almost exclusively local men. No members died during that conflict, but many of Company K’s members are buried here. Their graves can be recognized by a Spanish-American War marker.
During the 20th century, more North Baltimore and Henry Township men and women fought in our nation’s conflicts. The names of those who died in service are engraved on the stone monument in front of the American Legion Post.
Among the 5 men from this area who died in World War I was US Army private Vernon Wymer, who was killed in action in France on July 2, 1918. He died at the Battle of Vaux as a member of the 2nd infantry division.
I recently visited that battlefield where Private Wymer lost his life. Today it is a peaceful French farm field, but on that July day in 1918, it was a nightmare of German machinegun fire and exploding artillery shells. It took a lot of courage for Wymer and his comrades to attack across that open field against the German trenches. When Vernon Wymer’s body was returned home for burial in August 1921, over 4,000 people attended his funeral in North Baltimore.
In World War II, North Baltimore’s first casualty occurred on December 7, 1941. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Navy Seaman 1st Class Irven Thompson was killed when the Battleship Arizona was bombed and sunk.
Another World War II related name on the American Legion monuments is that of Calvin Lyons, a cousin of mine. He was an US Army Air Corps bomber pilot who died in a plane crash in the Himalayan Mountains in December 1944. He was on his way home from China after having completed his last mission against the Japanese military.
The American Legion monument lists one local soldier, Private Charles Barringer, as killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. Eight local men are listed as killed in the Vietnam War. Among those was US Marine Corporal Dale Spiers who was a boyhood friend of mine.
In the nearly 25 years since the Cold War’s end, many local men and women have served in the US military during the Persian Gulf war and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We are fortunate that none of them have died in those wars.
Many of the Civil War Union Army veteran’s tombstones are showing wear and are difficult to read. Most of the World War II and later veterans’ graves are still easy to identify. But each marks the resting place of a man or woman who served when their country needed them.
Memorial Day was established in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union military veteran’s organization. Its purpose was to honor those men who perished while fighting to maintain the unity of the United States. In 1881, North Baltimore area Union military veterans formed GAR Post #57 which was both a social club and a political and patriotic organization.
The local GAR members soon began to sponsor North Baltimore’s tradition of Memorial Day parades. By the early 1920s, the GAR members were too old and few in numbers to continue organizing the parade so the local American Legion Post 539 assumed responsibility for the parade.
Post 539 was chartered on February 13, 1923 by a group of North Baltimore-area World War I veterans. Since 1924, the American Legion has sponsored the Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. After World War I, Memorial Day was extended to commemorate all service personnel who died serving in the American military.
In order to honor our local war dead, the North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society has researched and created a series of historical panels covering the military history of the North Baltimore area. A photo of the first man killed in action in the wars of the 20th Century is featured on each specific war panel. This project was funded by a generous donation from Post 539. These panels are now available for viewing at the American Legion hall and at the North Baltimore Historical Center on North Main Street.
The Union Army veteran’s determination to defeat the Confederacy enabled the North to win the Civil War and to keep our nation united. The veterans of the Spanish-American War, World Wars, Cold War, and those of more recent conflicts helped to defeat foreign enemies intent on destroying our freedom. Without the sacrifices and bravery of our military personnel, the United States would not have become the great nation it is today. For their service we should be grateful.
After this ceremony, please take time to look at Maplewood Cemetery’s many veterans’ graves and the metal markers which identify the wars in which they served. There is a lot of American history represented here.