Remembering the fallen: Community gathers in solemn Memorial Day ceremony

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Marine Corps veteran Zack Ellison welcomes guests to the the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Columbus City Hall in Columbus, Ind., Monday, May 27 2024.

About 150 individuals gathered Monday at Columbus City Hall for the Columbus and Bartholomew County Community Memorial Day service.

Due to construction in and around the Bartholomew County Courthouse, as well as the threat of rain, the eight-member Memorial Day Committee decided to move the event from the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans to the Cal Brand Meeting Room.

The acoustics in the large meeting hall proved to be well-suited for the somber tone of the ceremony. While vocalist Matthew Pillar provided a powerful rendition of the National Anthem, the acoustics helped the singing from the audience blend well with Pillar’s voice.

This year, the names of 97 Bartholomew County veterans who have died over the past 12 months were read by Derika Arnholt of Meyers-Reed Funeral Home. Last year, there were 126 names.

Before Arnholt began reading, emcee Zack Ellison asked that the resonance from the Bell of Honor be allowed to linger a few seconds after each name was spoken. The result was that each individual name sounded more prominent for family and friends than it did previous outdoor readings.

Ellison read a letter from Sen. Todd Young written for all who had lost a friend or family member.

“The lives of your loves ones, and the lasting impact on your families, have left an indelible mark on our country,” the senator wrote.

Among the 97 recently-passed veterans were well-known figures whose lives had touched many in Bartholomew County.

They included: U.S. Air Force Colonel Robert E. Edgell (died Feb. 21); former Bartholomew County Superior Court 2 Judge Tim A. Grogg (died July 18); long-time 4-H contributor and auctioneer B. Parker Newsom (died July 7); former Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John T. Sharpnack (died March 25); and 24-year Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board member Ray Zeigler (died Oct. 12).

During past ceremonies, a few deceased veteran’s names would occassionally fall through the cracks. This year, Ellison gave audience members a chance to provide any name that was not on Arnholt’s list.

After the ceremony, Columbus Mayor Mary Ferdon said she’s taken back by how many last names she heard that have been prominent in both military service and local history for several decades.

“The Kiels, the Jewells, the Hendershots, the Maschinos,” the mayor said. “We lose people in this community whose families have lived here for generations.”

While Ferdon said she was saddened to learn only about 100,000 World War II veterans are still alive, she also expressed a sense of alarm at how many younger veterans have died – too often in cases of death by suicide.

Traditional participants in the service include the Gold Star Mothers, Daughters of the American Revolution and American Legion/VFW Auxiliary members who placed the wreaths, as well as the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums and the Bartholomew County Honor Guard.

Ellison was asked to fill in as emcee for John Foster, who was in Shelbyville to help provide play-by-play of high school baseball sectional action for White River Broadcasting.

Other Memorial Day services held Monday in Bartholomew County:

7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. –American Legion Post 229 in Hope performs individual ceremonies at several northeast Bartholomew County cemeteries that ends with a community ceremony at the Hope Moravian Cemetery.

9 a.m. – The tossing of rose petals into East Fork White River from the Robert N. Stewart Bridge to honor all military personnel who died in naval engagements.

10 a.m. – A ceremony honoring those who gave their lives in the veteran’s section of Garland Brook Cemetery.