Members of area communities gathered Monday to recognize Memorial Day while honoring the nation's heroes.
Gathering at the Courthouse gazebo along Main Street in downtown Ridgway, Dr. Michael O'Brien, the superintendent of the Ridgway Area School District, was guest speaker. He shared his thoughts on the special day and also featured a pair of fifth-graders who relayed what freedom meant to them.
"I was honored when asked to speak [Monday]," O'Brien said. "Memorial Day is extremely important. What I can say for sure about Memorial Day is that we should reflect on the history of our country and those who have protected her.
"Who should we remember?… Our ancestors who wanted to come to this country to become Americans; those who have served to protect our country against those who wish to do her harm; those who are currently serving around the world enabling us to be here today."
O'Brien also reflected on members of local police forces, firefighters and first responders who "give of themselves every day."
"Our parents and our grandparents also should be remembered," O'Brien said. "They have given of themselves so that we could have more than they did."
One fifth-grade student who recently shared his feelings on the word "freedom" with O'Brien at the local elementary school was Zion Rollick.
"Zion said that as an American, freedom to me means to have the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the freedom of press," O'Brien said. "To celebrate holidays like Memorial Day, also to have traditions like singing the 'Star Spangled Banner' and saying the 'Pledge of Allegiance.'
"The next thing I think of when I hear the word 'freedom' is the great holiday that we celebrate for our troops and support our troops, and remember that they keep us free."
Julia Schutz, another fifth-grade student at Francis S. Grandinetti Elementary School, was part of O'Brien's speech.
"No other country enjoys freedom the way Americans do," O'Brien said while reading Julia's writing. "Freedom means a lot of different things but to me, freedom means we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We have self-ownership and independence, and we Americans celebrate U.S. traditions and symbols of our country.
"I am free because of the Bill of Rights set forth through the freedoms that we Americans have. There are a lot of symbols in U.S. tradition and we have to celebrate our freedom and independence."
O'Brien said Memorial Day also serves as a reminder to be involved and active in the political spectrum.
"They talk about our rights and founding principles, and I believe they're being eroded because our political leaders have lost the ability or the willingness to protect us," O'Brien said. "Immigration, right to bear arms, and the separation of church and state are just three examples. Americans are a hearty people who do not need the government to interfere in every aspect of our lives.
"Our country was founded as a nation under God with the belief that hard work should pay off and the lack of it should not. Elected officials are to serve the people of this country, not the reverse. When pushed too far, Americans will fight for their right for freedom."
Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, May 29, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.