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For the past nine years, the East Liberty Memorial Day Celebration hasn’t been complete without the recognition of a hometown hero or heroes, local figures who helped shape American history through their military service. 

Their legacy and history will be shared during the East Liberty Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday, May 27, at the East Liberty Cemetery by Tyler J. Hall, who conducts the research project with his father, Jeff. 

Previously, this award has highlighted a variety of local military heroes, including Clara Goldsmith, a U.S Army Nurse during World War I; a personal secretary to General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing during World War I; a survivor of the Bataan Death March; a corporal who served in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge; Civil War veteran William Humphreys; four men from East Liberty who served in volunteer infantry and cavalry units in the Spanish American War; and last year, World War II veteran Marvin “Mitch” Mitchell and Korean War veteran Robert Dean “Bobby” Dill, who returned home to also serve their communities as longtime business owners in East Liberty.  

PFC HAGER

The ceremony hosted by Wood-Rosebrook Post of the American Legion and the Perry Township Trustees also includes remarks by Dr. Jason Robson, whose mother, Gerry, was a cousin to one of this year’s honorees, World War II veteran Robert Donald Hager. 

The fellow honoree this year is Edwin Donald James, a World War I veteran. Both men with Logan County roots would meet a similar difficult fate during their respective times in the service to their country.  

Edwin was born in 1895 in East Liberty and attended Jesup Scott High School in Toledo, graduating in 1914, the year World War I began. 

After high school, Edwin enrolled at The Ohio State University and joined in the brand-new ROTC Military Aeronautics Program. In mid-July of 1917, Edwin James was enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which was the home of fledgling American air power. In January of 1918, just the following year, he was honorably discharged as a private so that he could receive his immediate commission as a second lieutenant. 

East Liberty native Lt. Edwin Donald James is pictured in his yearbook photo in 1914 at Jesup Scott High School in Toledo during 1914. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Edwin relocated to Ellington Field, near the Gulf Coast of Texas, Tyler reports. Ellington Field was among the chief advanced flight centers for the Signal Corps, with its own gunnery and bombing range on a small peninsula in the Gulf. 

“Think of that, James was training to be an aviator just 15 years after the Wright Brothers flew for the first time! Truly, that was the very tip of the spear of military advancement of its day,” Tyler said. 

“As was the case though in those early days of flight, taking to the skies was dangerous business and Ellington Field recorded the most pilot fatalities among all U.S. Army training bases throughout the United States.”

One such fatality was this year’s first Hometown Hero — Edwin D. James — who died when he collided mid-air during a training flight on Jan. 30, 1918, Tyler reports in his speech. 

Now long after James’ death, the second honoree Robert Donald Hager was born in West Mansfield in 1926. His family moved to Columbus shortly after. 

A graduate of North High School, Robert was an active student — vice president of his senior class, an officer in Link Club, and the president of the Inter-Club council. Hager graduated from North High on June 8, 1944, and joined the Army the next month. 

After several months of training, he set off from Fort Meade on Jan. 29, 1945, en route to his assignment to the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. 

In the few months prior to Hager linking up, the 22nd Infantry had been involved in fierce fighting along the Siegfried Line, the nearly 400-mile-long German-built defensive network of more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps. 

“Thinking the 22nd needed some relief, the Allied high command pulled it out of Western Germany and sent it south to the Luxembourg area for rest and refit,” Tyler shares in his speech. “However, it soon found itself as the southern defensive flank in the Battle of the Bulge. 

“In the first week of February 1945, the 22nd Infantry attacked into Germany and seized the city of Prüm. It later crossed the Rhine River and eliminated the resistance before finally occupying the city of Nuremberg, the site of the famous post-war trials.

Somewhere in this fighting, on Easter Day, April 1, 1945, Robert Hager — our second Hometown Hero — was killed, probably only six weeks or so after arriving, Tyler reports. Barely than a month later, Hitler would kill himself in his bunker and the war in Europe would end. 

While these two men of common heritage were from different eras, their stories share similarities, Tyler notes. 

“The first was training as a part of the newfound concept of militarized air power, which is, even today over 100 years later, the primary means of battlespace superiority. 

“The second, joining his unit after the bulk of fighting in Europe was over. D-Day was eight months earlier, the ill-fated Operation Market Garden and ensuing Battle of the Bulge had concluded by the time Hager arrived. 

“Still, Edwin James died before he could get to his war and Robert Hager died within sight of his own war ending. These two men left no children and their deaths are events we struggle to understand. What did their sacrifice mean?” 

Tyler contemplates if perhaps, the message of their sacrifice was not in the end of their service, but in the beginning. 

“Edwin James joined that ROTC Military Aeronautics Program at Ohio State at a time when he was all but certain that learning to fly was a risky venture, that flying could lead to injury or death. James was among the earliest military pilots this country had and he was training up, preparing himself to go fly for the Allies over the desolate “no man’s land” of the Great War. 

A Purple Heart was issued to Robert Donald Hager’s family his posthumous honor. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

 “For Robert Hager, we can try to imagine growing up and going through high school during the early days of World War II. As I stated, Hager graduated high school on June 8, 1944, which was just two days after the Normandy landings. For his part, when Hager got his chance, he stepped in as a replacement for the battered 22nd Infantry and helped continue the push into Germany to snuff out the last Nazism. 

The essence of each of these men was perhaps not the length of a distinguished career or the ability of their time in the military to fill pages of books.

“Instead, their essence was a willingness to serve their country at a time when their service was needed,” Tyler relates. “Edmund Burke, the prominent 18th-century philosopher and member of British Parliament said, ‘Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could do only a little.’”

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