WAYNESFIELD — Members from several area veterans organizations gathered Monday and presented flags to the parents and the wife of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sonny Zimmerman, who died last Tuesday while serving in Afghanistan.
Members from the VFW Post 8445 men’s and women’s auxiliaries, the Ohio District 2 Women’s Auxiliary, Freedom’s Colors, and the Wapakoneta AMVETS served on the Color Guard as the flags were presented to Zimmerman’s father, Chris, at his home in Waynesfield, and to his wife, Morgan, and step-daughter, Riley, at their home in Fort Shawnee.
The flag posts, poles, and all of the concrete work were donate anonymously while the VFW donated the flags to the families. During a special ceremony, they were raised and then flown at half-staff in Sonny’s memory.
The short ceremonies at both residences were a tribute to a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending his country, but for many of the veterans manning the Color Guard it also symbolized many other things.
It symbolized how far the public has evolved in its feelings toward veterans and giving veterans the respect they have earned, one veteran said.
For Delmar Merricle, Zimmerman’s death really hit home. He was friends with Sonny’s father and grandfather. Merricle is now the commander for the auxiliaries at the Wapakoneta post. “He is a true hero,” Merricle said of Zimmerman. “We had a draft back then during the Vietnam War. We went and served our 12 months. They don’t use the draft any more. This guy volunteered.”
As time goes on, the majority of the World War II veterans who returned from battle in the Pacific and Europe and who made up many of the veterans organizations have now died. The majority of the members now are Vietnam veterans, who came home to a much different greeting than many of the soldiers do now when they return from the war on terrorism.
Merricle said society’s attitudes have evolved tremendously since he returned from Vietnam as a member of the Marines.
“I was completely shocked when I heard about Sonny’s death,” Merricle said. “It really hit home for me. When you put that uniform on, you know what can happen but you hope that it doesn’t. But the guys here, we care about our veterans — our motto is to honor the dead by helping the living.”
Bill Forsyth, of Jackson Center, served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. As with most of the Color Guard members that participated Monday, it was the first time they had honored a fallen soldier from the area. He said he is proud to be a member of an organization that upholds the memories of heroes such as Zimmerman.
“I think these kinds of organizations have brought forth some big injustices that existed,” Forsyth said. “The public is more aware. Zimmerman will now be remembered as he should, as a hero.”
Ace Ambos, of Wapakoneta, served in the Marines from 1966-1968 in Vietnam, and remembers the opinions of most when he returned to the U.S. He said Zimmerman’s death in the line of duty has brought back many memories.
“I give these men now the utmost respect because they don’t have to do it,” Ambos said. “It is an honor to serve on the color guard and give these men respect for defending their country.
“When soldiers were returning from Vietnam, people didn’t want anything to do with you,” he said. “It is sad, because it reminds you of guys that you knew that died. I think the veterans organizations have helped. We saw the reaction, and we said, ‘Never again.’ ”