By Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mann, Ohio National Guard historian
ST MARYS, Ohio (02/06/23)
With rain falling on a mid-November morning, hundreds of local citizens and military veterans gathered last Veterans Day to dedicate a memorial to honor the Ohio National Guard units and armory that have been part of the western Auglaize County community since 1877.
In 2020, the armory that was constructed 100 years prior was closed and its tenant unit at the time, Company B, 837th Engineer Battalion, was moved about 30 miles northeast to Lima. Shortly after, St. Marys resident John Burd proposed that the community establish a memorial in honor of all the men and women who served in the local Guard units over the 143-year timeframe. City leaders began planning for the memorial in late 2021, and in less than a year, the memorial was complete.
“It will serve not only as a reminder to us, but to our children and for generations to come,” said Gregory Foxhoven, director of public service and safety for the city of just over 8,000 citizens.
The brick memorial was built only feet from the armory in the city’s Memorial Park. Designed to resemble the distinctive features of the building, the memorial contains two large bronze plaques — one that identifies all units previously assigned to the facility and another that denotes the federal mobilizations that various units were activated to support. These include Mexican Border Service, World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the war on terrorism. Additional plaques identify Guard members who gave their lives in service to their country.
“Many Citizen-Soldiers from St. Marys and surrounding communities have passed through the doors of the Ohio Army National Guard armory in St. Marys.”
“Many Citizen-Soldiers from St. Marys and surrounding communities have passed through the doors of the Ohio Army National Guard armory in St. Marys,” read resident Krista Prater from a St. Marys City Council resolution. “During combat missions from the trenches of the French countryside, to the streets of Manila, and in the combat outposts of the Middle East, our Citizen-Soldiers of the Ohio Army National Guard would be awarded some of the nation’s highest honors for heroism and valor; many were wounded in action and some gave all that men and women can give.”
Prater represented her family as a relative of Staff Sgt. Charles Kettler, a St. Marys Soldier who was killed on July 11, 1943, on the island of New Georgia and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal.
“I’ve never seen a community embrace military service like the St. Marys community,” Lt. Col. David Swisher told the crowd. “You all have made our Soldiers’ lives better for your support.”
Swisher served in Iraq as a platoon leader with Company A, 612th Engineer Battalion and later as the commander of Company A, Special Troops Battalion, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during a mobilization to Afghanistan. Both units were stationed at St. Marys. He described St. Marys as his second home.
“I still remember the day we came home to St. Marys (from Iraq),” Swisher recalled. “The streets were lined with people with signs. Although our buses had the windows closed, we could hear the cheering and clapping.”
Swisher met his future wife at that welcome home ceremony and was later married in a local church.
Despite the facility’s closure, then-Col. Matthew S. Woodruff (he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general during a Jan. 6 ceremony), Ohio assistant adjutant general for Army, assured everyone that the Ohio National Guard remains a part of the St. Marys community. Addressing Soldiers from Company B, 837th Engineer Battalion prior to the ceremony, he shared his intent with those in attendance.
“I told them you cannot lose the connection to this community,” Woodruff said. “We will be here for this community, whether we have an armory or not.”