PIQUA — A day “unique” to the United States had Piqua community members honoring both local veterans and veterans overall on Wednesday. Major Robert Lewis, chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was the speaker at Piqua’s Veterans Day event, remarking how, “America’s day for veterans is unique among nations in that we honor those who are with us, reserving Memorial Day for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Commander Richard Trowbridge of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4874 introduced Lewis, explaining that Lewis attended Miami-Dade Junior College before enlisting and serving four years in the United States Air Force as an air traffic controller. Lewis earned a B.A. in management at Park College in Parkville, Mo., and a master’s of divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.
“He pastored a civilian parish in Millersburg, Ky., and Troy for a total of 20 years combined,” Trowbridge said. “When his oldest son enlisted in the Ohio National Guard, it started the wheels turning, and in June of 2004 after an 18-year break in service, he came back into the military with a direct commission as a chaplain (and) captain. A move which he describes as, ‘the best mid-life crisis experience ever.’”
“We have an opportunity to pay homage to those who are still with us, and that opportunity is a blessing we should exercise with pride, purpose, and enthusiasm,” Lewis said.
Lewis asked all of the veterans in the audience and crowd gathered around Piqua’s Veteran Memorial to stand, after which they received applause.
Lewis told a couple stories during his speech, including one about an act of sacrifice that occurred in the Palmyra Massacre during the Civil War in Oct. 1862 in Palmyra, Mo. Ten Confederate prisoners, reportedly being held for minor offenses, were executed by the order of Union Col. John McNeil when Confederate Col. John C. Porter could not return a captured pro-Union civilian, Andrew Alsman.
“Three government wagons drove to the jail, and they carried a total of 10 rough board coffins,” Lewis said about that day in Palmyra. “Ten men were escorted from prison and were seated in the wagons, one sitting upon each coffin.” A guard of soldiers accompanied as the prisoners were brought to the local fair grounds, Lewis explained.
“The 10 coffins were removed from the wagons and place in a row six to eight feet apart,” Lewis said. “Thirty soldiers of the Union Army 2nd Missouri State Militia were drawn up in a single line facing the row of coffins. The arrangement completed, the doomed men now knelt on the grass between their coffins and the soldiers.”
A local reverend then said a prayer and the prisoners sat on the coffins, according to Lewis.
“One of the ten men originally to be executed received a last minute reprieve,” Lewis said. “The reprieved man was William T. Humphrey … a young man named Hiram Smith came forward to explain that he was unmarried and without a family. He asked permission to take the place of Humphrey, stating that perhaps it would be better for a single man to die than a man with a family.”
Lewis then read from the inscription of a memorial in Smith’s honor that is at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Steffenville, Mo.: “This monument is dedicated to the memory of Hiram Smith, the hero that sleeps beneath the sod here who was shot at Palmyra Oct. 17, 1862 as a substitute for Wm. T. Humphrey, my father.”
It is reported that Smith was a member of the 1st NE MO Cavalry, assigned to Col. Porter’s unit.
“Three simple points, you wouldn’t expect anything less of a preacher, right?” Lewis said. “Veterans are willing to pay the ultimate price. Every one of you know comrades that never made it home. I have four names in my mind that I will never forget.”
Lewis went on, saying, “Veterans are committed to a cause. Whether you’re overseas or here in the States, there are still many causes worthy of our time, attention, and money. And thirdly, veterans are dedicated to changing the course of the future.”
Lewis has served full-time as the battalion chaplain for 2nd/19th SFG in Iraq; chaplain with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team managing 15 U.S. and 13 coalition chaplains across northern Afghanistan; and post chaplain at Camp Atterbury, Ind. with 10 staff members, responsible for chaplain coverage to Mobilizing and Demobilizing Soldiers and Civilians. Lewis currently serves as the deputy command chaplain for the 84th Training Command U.S. Army Reserve.
Lewis and his wife Mirella have been married 34 years and have four children – Steven, Kimberly, David, and Wesley – and five grandchildren.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall