The simple flat tombstones stand like soldiers in formation. Row after row, stretching to the horizon in this Medina County farm land. This is the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.
Over 19,000 members of the armed services and veterans have already been laid to rest here since the cemetery was dedicated in the year 2000. Sean Baumgartner, The cemetery director, told me that they average 8 funerals a day, Monday thru Friday.
The cemetery owns 273 acres with less than a third of the land developed so far for burials. Baumgartner says there are approximately 540 thousand eligible veterans of all U. S. Armed Forces that live in northeast Ohio that may choose to be buried here in this newest of National Cemeteries.
The Medina County location near Rittman is the 119th National Cemetery to be created in the United States and is one of two located in Ohio. The other is in Dayton.
It is a sobering sight as you drive through the gate and onto the winding streets of this hallowed ground. At a turn in the road, near the visitor center, there is a life-size bronze statue of a veteran, dressed in a civilian suit and wearing a service cap. The bronze veteran holds an eternal salute to honor the service members and veterans who are brought here for burial.
The campaign for the statue was led by Frank Aleksandrowicz, 92, of Bay Village, Ohio. Aleksandrowicz is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. In fact, when the donations for the statue fell short, Aleksandrowicz dug into his own savings for more than 25 thousand dollars to make sure the 55 thousand dollar goal would be reached so Sculptor David Deming of Cleveland could finish the six foot tall bronze statue. It was completed and erected in 2008. It is presently the only statue permitted in the cemetery.
In a grove of trees at the edge of the rows of tombstones is a memorial walk that is literally filled with stone memorials placed there by veteran’s organization and fraternal groups commemorating various military services and individual regiments mostly of twentieth century wars. With over 120 stones it is believed to be the largest collection of such memorials in any national cemetery.
★ You can read the rest of the story in the Saturday, May 26 edition of the Plain Dealer or on line at their website, www.cleveland.com