Bell Tolls at Brooke Hills

When America has asked its sons and daughters to risk everything for their country, Brooke County has never failed to answer the call, according to Paul “Bud” Billiard.

To illustrate that point, a bell tolled 176 times during a Memorial Day ceremony at Brooke Hills Park, once for each county resident killed in action since World War I. The event was originally to be held at the newly dedicated Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, but was moved to a nearby picnic shelter due to a steady rainfall.

Billiard said about 66,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan and 29,000 in South Korea.

More than 9,000 West Virginians have been killed in action since World War I, and the state is home to more than 26,000 disabled veterans, he said.

“That’s a large sacrifice to make. … That is why we’re here today,” Billiard said.

Frank Haas, a lawyer and administrative law judge from Wellsburg, gave the keynote address.

He said Memorial Day is unique because it is a time set aside for mourning, an act that typically an unplanned, involuntary response to tragedy.

“So often, the time to mourn is forced on us … but today, on Memorial Day, we choose to mourn, and it is a proper time to mourn and remember,” he said.

Following his remarks, Haas called for two full minutes of silence – a span that pales in comparison, he said, to time spent by soldiers in trenches and families anticipating “letters from the front.”

Ryan Weld – an Air Force veteran who returned from Afghanistan in 2011 – and Alex Koscevic stepped to the podium and read the name of every Brooke County resident killed in battle since World War I. Each name was accompanied by the sounding of a bell, struck by Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad Commander Doug Lilly.

The memorial squad performed a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of Taps. As the mournful strains washed over the park, a group of golfers on a green about 100 yards away took note, stopping play and doffing their caps.

Although he was disappointed the weather forced Monday’s ceremony under roof, Billiard invited everyone to visit the monument, which was dedicated Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. He said the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation is extremely proud of the monument and the years of work that went into it.

“This is your park, and we ask you to come to it, sit and meditate and enjoy it,” Billiard said.

The park fittingly sits on ground once owned by one of America’s first veterans – Maj. Joseph Gist, a Maryland native who fought in the American Revolution and settled in what would become Brooke County after the war.

Brooke Hills occupies a large portion of the more than 1,000 acres he eventually owned.