WAPAKONETA — American veteran education offset the festivities Tuesday at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds during the 67th St. Joseph Festival.
Ralph Reynolds, of Wapakoneta, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran who served from 1971-72, has a collection of American military weapons, uniforms and other items he uses to educate people and honor veterans, called Freedom’s Colors. The festival’s board asked him to put together the small museum one year and liked it so much it asked him to return every other year during the festival, Reynolds said. Last year he was asked to return yearly because they believe it’s important to honor and remember our veterans, he explained.
“All of our uniforms and 90 percent of our stuff is donated by veterans,” Reynolds said. “We do this to honor them and educate our youth.”
Reynolds and his wife, Joyce, take bits of their collection to local schools to educate local youth about military veterans and their importance to America.
“I’ve seen what it does,” he explained. “I’ve seen the positivity it creates, not just in the schools and with the public but how it affects our veterans. When a veteran comes to me and gives me his full dress uniform, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Reynolds said he’s thrilled with how the social and political perception of veterans have changed since the Vietnam era. When he got out of the Army, soldiers were briefed on their way home not to expect a hero’s welcome because of the animosity felt by the public about the war, he explained. A lot of soldiers getting off the transports back in the U.S. wore civilian clothing so not to draw attention to themselves. The military cut them loose and never bothered to check how their transition coming home was going, Reynolds said.
Now, veterans are welcomed home by the public, and the military checks on them to make certain their transition back into civilian lives is going well, Reynolds said, adding this altered perception has to do with insistence by Vietnam veterans that returning soldiers needed help when they returned home.
“My main goal here is to honor our veterans,” Reynolds said.
The St. Joseph Festival focused on providing family fun Tuesday. Most of the carnival rides were child friendly. The spinning swing ride available was low to the ground and went slower than other swing rides. A merry-go-round and small train track were two of the other rides available.
A tent near the main entrance was filled with children games, such as a magnetic fish pond game and the classic duck game where children pick up a plastic duck from slow-moving water and flip it over to see what they won.
Classic adult carnival games, such as the shooting gallery, dart throw and a multiple ring toss games, were on hand with the usual stuffed animal prizes.
Red Dragon Lazer Tag, from Hamersville, had some inflatable obstacles set up so children of all ages could have fun with toy guns.
Bingo and other assorted adult games were scattered about the fairgrounds. A train met attendees at the entrance and transported them around the fairgrounds.
All of the festivities were leading up to the Fourth of July fireworks show scheduled for Tuesday night.