FAIRVIEW PARK, Ohio -- 50 years after a U.S. Marine officer died in the line of duty, his family, the Corps and the community honor him and remember his loyalty, bravery and sacrifice.
For the past half century, Valentine's Day has been a bittersweet holiday for the family and friends of 2nd Lt. James Patrick Witt who was killed in Vietnam on February 14, 1969.
2nd Lt. Witt of Fairview Park died while leading his platoon in a firefight with North Vietnamese forces in Quang Nam Province.
Jim Witt, a graduate of St. Edward High School, had gained the respect of his fellow Marines as a 21-year-old officer, even though he had been in Vietnam for only 37 days.
“Whatever he asked his platoon members to do, he'd do himself, he led from up front,” said Ron Covrett, a fellow Marine who was wounded on the same day in Vietnam.
In a ceremony at Fairview Park City Hall on Thursday, the Marine Corps honored Jim Witt for his bravery on that day 50 years ago, by re-dedicating his Silver Star and Bronze Star and presenting them to his five siblings, some of whom vividly remember the day Marine officers knocked on their front door.
His sister, Barb Witt Cicerchi told Fox 8,"Someone can be taken from you so quickly, as he was with us, and yet the ripples have gone farther and farther away for all 50 years.”
While 2nd Lt. Witt was leading his platoon on that fateful Valentine's Day, his fiancee was back in Fairview Park awaiting his return home from the war. Then, she got the devastating news that brought a tragic end to their fairy tale romance.
“I was devastated because you know we had planned a life together,” said Donna Hill, “And Valentine`s Day since then, I just try and get through it.”
The story of Jim Witt lives on in his hometown, through a memorial at Fairview Park City Hall. Each year, third graders from local elementary schools visit the memorial, where they learn about the sacrifice of 2nd Lt. Witt and other service members.
On Thursday afternoon, a Marine honor guard hoisted the same American flag that draped Jim Witt's casket in 1969, up the flag pole outside the city hall complex. It is another reminder of the footprints left in the sand by the young Marine officer.
“It shows after 50 years, how he touched so many lives,” said Donna Hill.
Jim Witt is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery near his parents. Each year, fellow Marine Ron Covrett visits his grave, where he makes sure the stone is polished, and plants a small Marine Corps flag on the grave.
Covrett told Fox 8, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”