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Columbus -- It was in the middle of the reading of the names of Ohio military men killed in action over the past year that Gov. John Kasich rose from his seat and headed toward a little girl sitting in the front row.
The youngster and other members of her family couldn't hide their emotions, and neither could the governor, kneeling before them to offer words of comfort and, shortly afterward, covering his own face with his hands as the tears flowed.
"When I look at the families who have lost people, they will leave here today with very, very heavy heart …," the governor told attendees of an annual pre-Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at the Statehouse May 21. "We are with you today. We will be with you tomorrow. And we salute you for the sacrifice that your loved one gave."
The governor's ceremony came after a joint session of the Ohio House and Senate, where lawmakers presented Military Medals of Distinction to the families of soldiers and Marines who died in service over the past year. The list included Army 2nd Lt. David E. Rylander, a Stow man who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in May 2012.
"The men we honor today were taken from this earth too soon," said House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina. "But the spirit of their character and the significance of their sacrifice will carry on for generations to come."
The wreath-laying ceremony included comments from Josh White, a Maryland state police detective and Stark County native whose sister, 1st Lt. Ashley White-Stumpf, was killed in action in Afghanistan in October 2011.
"I could hear in Ashley's voice an overtone, and I've come to the realization that she was simply a scared young woman in a dangerous place that she could not possibly understand," White said, recalling his last phone conversation with his sister. "… The absolute pinnacle of courage is performing your duties despite the absolute fear that you may lose your life."
He added, "That is why we have an obligation to honor our fallen heroes during Memorial Day services. In fact, I believe that Memorial Day ... should always be regarded as one of our nation's most important days, because it honors the sacrifice that was given in the name of creating a better world."
The May 21 events were made even more somber by the storms that hit Oklahoma the day before, leaving some two dozen people dead, including schoolchildren.
"We think about those mothers and fathers who don't know about their children," Kasich said. "Imagine the pain and the suffering that they have gone through, hoping and praying sometimes against hope that their children would be found alive. A devastating tornado that has killed so many and wounded so many and broken the hearts of so many."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.