Video and Photo Gallery: Hundreds gather for Stark County Veterans Memorial dedication
Brian Benesh said when he and other soldiers returned to the United States after serving in Vietnam, they were chastised because of negative sentiments surrounding the long, drawn-out and bloody war.
Benesh said few welcomed him home or thanked him for his service.
Only 40 years later is he hearing those words.
Benesh said people both young and old came up to him throughout Sunday afternoon and thanked him for his service as he served as master of ceremonies for the dedication of the Stark County Veterans Memorial in Dickinson.
"This (the memorial) takes away some of the pain that has been there for many years," he said. "It's been one of the most gratifying days ever.
"It's touching, it makes you reflect, makes you realize that your efforts were not made in vain."
Hundreds gathered under a gray, cloudy sky in Memorial Park to dedicate the veteran's memorial that was completed in its entirety last week following a four-year long labor of love.
The monument, consisting of 11 black, granite tablets and a bronze soldier saluting them, is a tribute to those who served, honored and sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the country. More than 6,000 names of Stark County veterans are carved into tablets ranging from the Civil War through the present day.
Members of the Stark County Veterans Association, representatives of dignitaries and county officials gave speeches about the importance of such an occasion and the monument.
"Our gathering is just a small one, a spark in flame of pride that burns across the nation to remember, to honor and give gratitude to those who have served our country," Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said. "It is not a lot, but it is one small way that we can honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom."
He said all soldiers deserve recognition, and spoke of generations of veterans, from those who served in the Revolutionary War to today in Afghanistan.
"We remember and we honor them all," Kessel said.
Stark County Commissioner Bucky Wolf, who served in the Marines, said there are 23 million living veterans who have served in the military—11 percent of the country's population. He urged the audience to remember that 11 percent, to pray for them and say "thank you" when given the opportunity.
For Benesh, the recognition and people expressing their thanks is "very gratifying."
He said he's a staunch believer that those who served should never be forgotten.
"And now you won't be forgotten," he said of the veterans. "Your name will always be up there."
After the ceremony, hundreds roamed around the memorial, running their fingers along the granite tablets to find their names, or those of loved ones and friends. People took pictures of the etched names with their cellphones and digital cameras, each name igniting memories.
"The names and the spirit that is housed here on this wall will never die," benediction speaker Bob Stockert said. "Their memories continue to be with us here today and every day."
Benesh said every name on the wall has a story, and the monument resurfaces those memories.
He listened to others around him share those memories Sunday afternoon at the memorial, smiling as people shared stories with one another, keeping those names alive.
Benesh said he has yet searched for his own name.
He plans to wait for an early morning or a time in the late evening, when few people are around, so he can take pause and remember in silence.