PARKERSBURG - More than 100 community members gathered Sunday in the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cemetery for a Memorial Day program put on by the Wood County Historical Society and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
"Many Americans have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day," said historian Roger Nedeff. "We have gathered here to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms."
Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Throughout the years, the holiday has been extended to include all of those who served in the United States military, no matter the branch or conflict in which they served.
Members of the 14th West Virginia Volunteer Co. F attend the Memorial Day program put on by the Wood County Historical Society and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church at the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cemetery at 14th and Dillaway streets Sunday in Parkersburg. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"These veterans have helped us work towards a permanent peace," Nedeff said. "It is the veteran, not the rabbi or pastor, who has given us the freedom of religion... It is the veteran and not the politician who has given us the right to vote; for everything we have in this great country, we have veterans to thank, for they gave their all so we can live."
The hour-long ceremony, in the Catholic cemetery located at 14th and Dillaway streets in Parkersburg, honored Union Capt. Michael Egan and other Civil War soldiers.
Local historian Robert Newman spoke about Egan, who was born and raised in Ireland before immigrating to Virginia where he fought in the Civil War. He was a prisoner of war in Columbia, S.C., from which he escaped in November 1864 and traveled 600 miles to reach home.
"His stories are fascinating," Newman said. "He was a great writer and wrote everything he went through and was always kind to those who helped him - he supported blacks and fought for their freedom."
Egan died in 1888 in Marietta while traveling home to Parkersburg from Columbus. He was buried in the family plot in the Catholic cemetery. The Egan family gravemarker served as a backdrop for Sunday's program.
Newman said the Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in America's history.
"During the war, an estimated 620,000 people lost their lives; that was 2 percent of the population," Newman said. "In today's population numbers, that would be as high as 6 million souls."
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cemetery, which was established in 1872 when the property was outside of the city limits, has about 1,300 gravesites, Nedeff said. Those graves include 33 Civil War veterans - 27 Union and six Confederates.
The names of those veterans were read during the ceremony by Mary Jo Blythe with the Wood County Historical Society.
"It is important for us to celebrate Memorial Day because we need to honor the veterans who have shaped our nation," said Mayor Bob Newell of Parkersburg.
The remaining Memorial Day services and programs scheduled for today around the Mid-Ohio Valley include:
* Today, 8 a.m., Harmar Memorial Day Parade and Service, Harmar Village, Marietta
* Today, 9 a.m., Beverly-Waterford Memorial Day Parade and Service, Beverly and Waterford
* Today, 9:30 a.m., Williamstown Memorial Day Parade, Williamstown
* Today, 10 a.m., Marietta Memorial Day Parade and Service, Marietta
* Today, 10 a.m., City Park, Parkersburg
* Today, 10:30 a.m., Lowell Memorial Parade, Lowell
* Today, 10:30 a.m., Jackson County Veterans Memorial Program, Ripley
* Today, 11 a.m., Leavitt Funeral Home, Belpre
* Today, 11 a.m., New Matamoras Memorial Day Service
* Today, noon, First Baptist Church, Eighth and Market streets, Parkersburg