COVINGTON — Two national anthems — one of the United States and the other of the Kingdom of Belgium — rang through Highland Cemetery during Covington’s Memorial Day ceremony and World War I Centennial Monument dedication on Monday. The village hosted a representative from Belgium in remembrance of how Covington servicemen came to Belgium’s aid during World War I and helped liberate the country during their German occupation.
“Belgium has not forgotten,” said keynote speaker David K. Frank, who is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Air Force.
Frank, a 1967 Covington High School graduate, also served as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force and also previously practiced law in Columbus. He currently lives in Powell and is writing a book on the military history of Covington.
Frank and Jay Wackler worked together to raise over $40,000 in funds and donations for Covington’s World War I Centennial Monument, which they officially dedicated during Memorial Day on Monday. It is 7-feet-by-7-feet with an additional bronze plaque on it to commemorate approximately 294 local veterans who served in World War I.
“These young men from Covington were true American heroes,” Frank said.“They deserve to be remembered and honored, and they deserve this monument.”
“Thanks to you, these men shall not be forgotten,” said Karen Purke, executive director of the Miami Valley Veterans Museum, recognizing the community’s support for the monument. The Miami Valley Veterans Museum was the financial entity for the fundraising project.
Frank and Wackler began to raise funds for the monument after they became inspired to preserve a plaque on the former Covington Armory. The plaque, which now rests on the new monument, honored seven people from the Covington area who were killed in World War I.
Wackler, a 1961 Covington High School graduate, was also the parade marshal during Covington’s Memorial Day parade. He served as a Sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Now a Troy resident, Wackler is retired from the computer industry and has also worked with the Covington Chamber of Commerce and Covington Alumni Foundation.
In addition to recognizing a number of Covington’s military servicemen, they also recognized the nearly 300 Covington area servicemen who fought in World War I with the U.S. Army’s 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Buckeye Division, in battles in France and Belgium in 1918, particularly highlighting their role in the 37th Buckeye Division to helping liberate Belgium.
Frank talked about Major General William L. Marlin, who commanded the third battalion of the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Division, during battles in Belgium in 1918, Marlin received the Distinguished Service Cross from the U.S. President for his efforts in combat at Hearne, Belgium, on Nov. 1-2, 1918. According to the Presidential citation accompanying that award, Marlin “displayed exceptional qualities of personal courage and leadership in forcing the crossing of the Escaut River, establishing a bridgehead on the right bank of the river, and maintaining his position against repeated and vigorous counterattacks, all under heavy artillery and aeroplane fire. Major Marlin exposed himself fearlessly and audaciously and without regard for danger, thereby greatly enhancing the morale of the troops and contributing materially to the success of this operation.”
After this battle, Marlin was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the American honor guard that escorted Belgian King Albert I back into Belgium on Nov. 22, 1918.
Frank said that while Americans can never fully repay the servicemen and servicewomen who died while serving in military, “We should never forget their sacrifice.” That is a sentiment that they also had engraved on the new monument, which reads, “They shall never be forgotten.” Frank encouraged attendees that remembering them “is now our responsibility” and encouraged each generation to remember them and “the blessings of liberty and freedom.”
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we remember them,” U.S. Congressman Warren Davidson said about all U.S. servicemen and women. Davidson also presented a Congressional record to the village of Covington honoring the veterans. He then welcomed Lieutenant Colonel Heidi Libert, a senior officer in the Belgian Armed Forces, Air Component, and graduate of the Belgium Royal Military Academy.
Libert attended Monday’s ceremonies on behalf of the Kingdom of Belgium, beginning by saying that while, at the end of World War I, Belgium was struggling financially and lacking food, “We were free again.”
Libert said that, during World War I, it was Belgium’s intention to stay neutral during the war, but then they “paid a high price.” Belgium was almost completely occupied by forces of the German Empire between 1914 and 1918.
“American involvment turned the tide,” Libert said. Libert referenced the approximately 300 servicemen from the Covington area who served in World War I, “defending their country and ours.”
“They showed great courage in the battles for the liberation of Belgium,” Libert said.
Libert went on to say that their sacrifices have not been forgotten.
“I belong to a generation of western Europeans who have grown up in an era of peace and prosterity,” Libert said. ”We know our countries only as they are now: modern, stable, and above all, free. That would not have been possible without the great sacrifice of the young men from Covington and all the other brave men that fought in the war. You can proud of them.”
“Belgium thanks you and promises to forever honor their efforts,” Libert said.
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