With a population of just under 4,800, Hambden Township lies in the Northeast section of Geauga County. Hambden Congregational Church is in the epicenter of the township, along with the fire station, cemetery, and Veteran Memorial, which is located beside the church. The area has a few distinctions. It boasts many maple trees and produces huge quantities of maple syrup each year, and its dubious claim to fame is nearby Chardon, which is the snow capital of Ohio, averaging 107 inches each year.
This Memorial Day, the weather was sunny and 75º. The annual parade started at 9:00 a.m. and lasted about ten minutes. It included members of the Great Geauga County Fair Band who rode on a flatbed pickup, the Geauga Highlanders Pipes and Drums, tractors, EMS and fire vehicles, a few classic cars, a color guard, and the grand marshal, 91 year-old Bill Gertz, who rode atop a vintage military pickup. The parade may have been short, but the memories evoked were long-lasting.
After the parade, the group of about 150 spectators entered the church for prayer and a brief message. Veterans in attendance from each of the US military branches were recognized, and afterward, the group went to the Veteran Memorial. Since 1989, Mr. Gertz has been reading aloud the names of all Hambden Township men and women who served in all wars.
Dressed in his Marine Corps white shirt adorned with medals, and his hat with the pin identifying him as a Marine, Mr. Gertz is proud to have served his country and his township. When asked if he ever missed a year of reciting the names, he pointed to his hat and said, “Do you see this? I am a Marine and we do not miss.” Mr. Gertz also added that although his health is slowly faltering, he will wait to see how he is in 2020 when Memorial Day comes again. A pancake breakfast capped the event, and Bill enjoyed talking with many of the people who came to remember the service of veterans.
In 1946, Mr. Gertz began a sixteen-month tour in North China. He recalled President Truman saying, “The population thinks the war is over because Germany and Japan surrendered, but we still need to clean them out of China.”
Part of Mr. Gertz’s benefits from serving was getting a G.I. Bill so he could attend school and become a veterinarian. But that was not to be.
“The good Lord set me in a different direction.”
He attended Hiram College and during his senior year, he met a girl on campus. A girl who would become his wife. They bought 150 acres and, with the help of his brother, Ed, they farmed it. Bill also worked nine years as a truck driver for Sidley’s, a provider of sand, stone, and cement products. He finished his career of 39 years as the Assistant to the President, responsible for purchasing.
Bill is very proud of his township and served as a trustee for years, and was the parking overseer for the Great Geauga County Fair (the oldest continuing county fair in Ohio). Many in the area used to call him “the mayor,” so involved was he in local goings-on. Bill’s beloved wife of over sixty years, Jean, passed away in 2015, and for now, Bill stays involved with his church, his family, and he enjoys his dog, JC.
Bill is one of the last of what has been called, “The Greatest Generation.” At their last reunion, held a few years ago, Bill remarked they all said, “good-bye.” When asked what advice he’d give to a person considering serving in the armed forces, he said,
“Follow your heart.”
He said he’s been following his since he gave his life to the Lord when he was eight years old.
Well done, William Gertz. Well done.