COLUMBIANA - Bob Schmidt still remembers walking alone through Arlington National Cemetery, taking a mental note of how many graves represented soldiers who died young.
It is those soldiers - and the countless others who have fought for our freedom - that we give honor to on Memorial Day, he said.
"Our military has declined in size. Today we maintain our strength through an all-volunteer force and so it should remain. Those volunteers are a national treasure," he said to the crowd gathered at the Veterans Memorial in the Columbiana Cemetery Monday.
The retired captain urged them to honor the military not only on Memorial Day but every day, by appreciating the freedom their lives paid for by living our lives to the fullest and investing in others.
That appreciation should be given regardless of anyone's personal stance on war or politics, he added.
Reading from a note written by a soldier who served in Iraq, he revealed that they - no matter their background or reason for joining the military - served together, unified by a common goal: to continue that which the founding fathers included in the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago, the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"Memorial Day is intended to remind us of what we should not forget It falls to us to bear witness of their devotion," he said.
A similar theme was imparted at Arlington Cemetery in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, he added.
The first of many Memorial Days to come was held with Lincoln telling a crowd of about 5,000, "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."
Since then, many more graves have been added to the rolling 624 acres at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These people risked their lives so you could (have it). Don't waste it get out and make the most of your day," Schmidt said.
Schmidt retired from his third tour at the Pentagon in 2007 and is a native of the Pittsburgh area. During his military career he served on four attack boats, which included an extended Cold War tour with the USS San Francisco. He later commanded the USS City of Corpus Christi, the first nuclear powered submarine to be home-ported in Guam, Marianas.
John McGeehan, chaplain of the Columbiana American Legion Post 290, also encouraged the crowd to appreciate their freedom.
"Help us to keep in mind our ideals and obligations," he prayed during the service's invocation.
The service also included music from the Columbiana High School and Crestview High School bands, and the playing of Taps by the local American Legion.
Commemorative wreaths were also placed at the base of the Veterans Memorial by the high schools, American Legion Post 290 and its Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Riders, and Auxiliary.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5532 of Washingtonville and its Women's and Men's Auxiliary, and the Columbiana County Vietnam Veterans and Point Man Ministries also presented wreaths.
The service was held for the first time without a flyover this year, which American Legion Post 290 Commander Dan Bekar said is because of the federal sequester cuts.
"Mr. Joe Costanzo gave it his all but it fell on deaf ears at the highest level," he said of the request for a flyover.
The military flyovers have reportedly been canceled for nearly all events until Sept 30.