Memorializing the lost

Warren remembers service members who gave their lives

Jerry Kopiak, a veteran of the Marine Corps, salutes as the Star Spangled Banner is sung Monday.

WARREN — The Memorial Day ceremony begins with a wreath cast into the Mahoning River.

“The casting of the wreath symbolizes the journey of the veterans who lost their lives while serving or who are missing in action. The wreath drifts downs the river, and on into other waterways, on and on and to the ocean, to remember all they did for us,” said Greg Hicks, Warren’s law director and a 33-year veteran of the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserves.

While Memorial Day is a day to remember those who are lost, it is the veterans who survived and came home who make sure their communities remember the fallen with ceremonies like Warren’s, Hicks said.

“They are heroes for what they did on the battlefields and unsung heroes for the hard, behind the scenes work they do now … making sure we never forget the heroes who died on the battlefield, the heroes who never made it home,” Hicks said.

Held on the banks of the river in Perkins Park, Warren’s Memorial Day ceremony on Monday featured speeches, historical readings, prayer, patriotic songs and recognition of veterans who survived the wars in which they served.

Gabrielle Jones, a 2017 graduate of Warren G. Harding High School, read an award-winning essay. The essay won the Veterans of Foreign Wars contest in Ohio and reflected on her great-grandfather’s service to the country and how she can honor that in her adult life. To honor his sacrifices and that of other service members, she said she will hold true to the country’s founding principles of democracy and freedom, and stand up for those rights.

James Barbe of Bristolville was one of the veterans — he served in the Army in the 1950s — who was to be honored at the ceremony for his service on the honor guard. The 79-year-old lost his battle to cancer Friday, moments after a picture of the plaque he was to receive Monday arrived, said his son, Ron Barbe.

Paul O’Brien of Brookfield was recognized for his service on the Youngstown Air Base Community Council and the strives the group made to ensure the air station stays open and operating. A 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, O’Brien said the Reserves are different than they used to be — airmen are activated more frequently and can be asked to serve multiple tours. That is why having a “patriotic” community for them to come home to for support is important, O’Brien said.

Shirley Frazier of Southington said she attended the ceremony so she could report back to her father, 94, who missed his first ceremony she could remember because he can’t get around like he used to.

“I’ll go visit him after, in Community Skilled Nursing, and tell him what I saw and heard. My family has a lot of ties to the military. It is important for us to be here,” Frazier said.

Though her husband died in 2013, Frances Sparacino, 87, Warren, said she comes to the ceremony to feel closer to the World War II U.S. Army veteran and honor him. Sparacino said she also comes to feel close to her son, Anthony Sparacino who died at 19 while he was in the U.S. Navy.

“Toney (Sparacino) and I always came. He was one of the most decorated veterans in Trumbull County. He received three purple hearts from wounds he got in Italy, France and Germany,” Sparacino said.

And, one of those Purple Hearts saved his life.

“He was being treated in a hospital, and while he was there, his whole company was wiped out,” Sparacino said.

Toney Sparacino never forgot about the men who didn’t return when he did, she said.

It is for people like Sparacino’s company who perished in defense of American values that the day is set aside for, said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.

“‘Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them,'” Franklin said, quoting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

After the ceremony, a parade of military vehicles and floats proceeded through Warren to Oakwood Cemetery, and later the Middle East Conflicts Memorial was dedicated in Trumbull County Veterans Memorial Park on Mahoning Avenue.