As the featured speaker at the City of Mentor's Memorial Day Walking Parade and Ceremony, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bob Zonneville immediately pronounced the magnitude of the holiday.
"This is the most important American holiday we celebrate," Zonneville said. "Without the sacrifice of those we remember today, many other holidays may not even exist."
Zonneville, a World War II veteran and Mentor resident, gave his speech to hundreds who were scattered throughout Mentor Municipal Cemetery, waving flags in support. Zonneville educated the crowd on the origins of Memorial Day, which was previously known as Decoration Day. The first-known observation of the day was held on May 5, 1868 in Waterloo, NY, he said.
"It was called Decoration Day because it was a day to decorate the graves of those killed or (who) died because of injuries in the (Civil War)," Zonneville said.
Various military groups and Boy and Girl Scouts marched through the cemetery as area veterans and residents stood in silent observation. The groups began their morning at Heinen's, the starting point of the walking parade. Visitors lined the cemetery's rails to watch the parade arrive.
The groups later dedicated red, white and blue wreaths as part of the ceremony. After veterans performed a gun salute, the Mentor High School band, which also partook in the walking parade, closed the ceremony with a rendition of "God Bless America."
Mentor resident and Korean War veteran Frank Lewandowski said attending the event helped him cope with mixed emotions of celebration and sadness.
"This probably one of the nicest ceremonies in the area," he said. "You go back and think about some of the fellas. It does bring back memories."
Zonneville concluded his speech by challenging people to do a better job of commemorating the nation's veterans, particularly at the expense of the topics people seemingly pay more attention to.
"Rarely a day goes by that we do not hear about our national debt," Zonneville said. "I believe the debt we owe these heroes, who made the supreme sacrifice, is far greater than the national debt, and we only recognize it on Memorial Day.
"It is sad that the only day we remember them as a nation is generally once a year."