Forged With Honor and Never Forgotten– Local Company Donates Sign to Honor Lost Veterans
A new memorial sign donated by Ohio Gratings, Inc. honors veterans & will debut at Canton’s Witness Tree ceremony tomorrow, Nov. 1 at noon in front of the Stark County Courthouse.
For Immediate Release
October 31, 2023
CANTON, OHIO—Tears filled the eyes of the group gathered outside the Stark County Courthouse when they learned their dream would finally become a reality—a memorial sign honoring their fellow veterans would arrive just in time for their third annual “Witness Tree” remembrance ceremony.
On Nov. 1 at noon, a group of representatives from various veteran organizations including the Stark County Honor Court will gather at the Witness Tree in front of the courthouse for a brief ceremony. Dog tags are hung from the tree to represent the daily loss of veterans to suicide, and guests will speak about the importance of mental health and support for our nation’s heroes. Ceremonies will continue each day at noon through Veterans Day, on Saturday, Nov. 11.
Marine Veteran Michael Myers describes the event, “This isn’t just a veteran thing. It’s a suicide and prevention and awareness ceremony, but we look at the stigma attached to mental health as a whole. I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t benefit themselves by investing in their mental health.”
Myers recounts how the event has grown, and how the veterans finally found a business to donate a memorial sign. “There were a lot of moving pieces and a lot of people involved. Three years ago, I got involved with an organization called Stark County Honor Court. I met Judge Taryn Heath and Director Michelle Hammers, who founded the program known at the time as the Remembrance Tree for Suicide Prevention.”
“That first year in 2020, Michelle and I met at the tree in front of the courthouse every day at noon from Nov. 1-11. The first ceremony was moving—we placed 22 dog tags in the tree as an act of remembrance. Each day, more individuals showed up with stories of their veteran loved ones who had lost their battle back here at home. That’s why we do it. Every day, we hear the most incredible
stories while meeting at the tree, hanging dog tags, and talking about the importance of mental health. It just grows bigger each time,” says Myers.
Myers continues, “By the fourth or fifth day, we had as many as 110 dog tags hanging on the tree. By the eleventh day, the tree was fully ornamental. It was incredible! We realized we needed a sign to signify what it represents, to raise awareness for those just passing by. We wanted something that would allow someone to embrace the message in our absence.”
The group searched for a local business willing to donate a sign for the cause. It needed to be strong and durable, able to withstand the elements. Unfortunately, after years of searching, they remained empty-handed until about 5 weeks ago.
In September, Myers had a burst of inspiration while working as an assistant press weld operator at Ohio Gratings, Inc. He approached his supervisor, Brett Jinks, with a request for a metal sign, despite only working there for a brief time. As a fellow veteran himself, Jinks loved the idea. Eleven days later they were drawing dimensions for a one-of-a-kind sign to honor our nation’s fallen heroes.
Within two weeks, the design was finished. When Myers showed the photo to his group of fellow Honor Court volunteers, he says several broke down in tears. “It was something we knew we could accomplish, we just didn’t know when. I don’t think I can convey how many people were touched by this gift from Ohio Gratings. They stepped up in such a huge way. It was far beyond anything we expected—It was the biggest win. OGI chose to be the solution,” says Myers proudly.
Ohio Gratings’ Chief Business Officer Shaun Eller says of the project, “We’re just honored. We’re honored to play a small part in anything we can do to help our veterans, especially in light of suicide prevention and mental health. It’s such a challenging problem in front of so many vets. This is just a small token of our gratitude for their service, and an opportunity to give something back.”
It is estimated that 22 military veterans succumb to suicide and drug overdoses each day according to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2022. Stark’s Honor Court volunteers hope to save veterans who have struggled after returning home from tours of duty by connecting them with the resources to help them readjust to civilian life. The daily remembrance ceremony at the courthouse is open to the public from November 1-11. Anyone is welcome to attend.
For Myers, his involvement in the project is personal. “I’m just extremely proud to be a part of it. When I was released from the Marine Corps, there were eight years where nothing made sense. The help I received from my local Veterans Affairs Center—it literally saved my life, period. There’s no other way to look at it. And I wanted to stay in that community and give back.”
He goes on, “Until we have zero lives lost, we’re not done. These guys won a war, then came back home, and are losing it here. It’s not for lack of caring. It’s the stigma with mental health. Individuals don’t know where to go, where to turn, or where to get help. A lot of times it leads to circumstances that only escalate. That’s where the Honor Court helps. We personalize a plan for them.”
Resources are available for housing, medical services, transportation and help with court issues through the Veteran’s Administration or the Stark County Veterans Service Commission. According to Myers, “when someone reaches out in that circumstance, you only have about six hours. And then they just vanish in the wind again. We’ve built this network of resources. It’s a very close-knit group.”
Stark County’s veteran advocates often work together to offer personalized solutions catering to each veteran’s specific needs. From veterans experiencing homelessness to substance abuse and chemical dependency, resources are available for those seeking help. A 24-hour crisis hotline is also available by calling or texting 988.
“It’s all about getting the word out. That’s what’s most important,” says Myers. “We can’t do anything except grieve and remember with humble hearts the individuals that we’ve lost. But it’s more about those that are still on the streets, or still in homes that don’t know where to turn. They’re still in the dark, and that’s where our energy and focus needs to be.”
“I lost my best friend to suicide. And the one thing that I wish I could have told him was he wasn’t alone. He never fought that battle by himself. We were there. And if he would’ve reached out, there were so many things available to him. We don’t fight alone. We never fight alone.”
About Ohio Gratings
Since 1970, Ohio Gratings, Inc. has been a leader in metal bar grating design, manufacturing and custom fabrication services. Its products are used in industrial and architectural applications for walkways, catwalks, trenches, stairs, bridge decks, screens, grilles, fencing, mezzanines, and shelving. Ohio Gratings is headquartered in Canton, Ohio. For more information, visit www.ohiogratings.com.