They served outside the wire and on the front line, in courtrooms and on battlefields — and now they are the newest members of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.
Four Dayton-area veterans are part of the 2019 class that was just inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The inductees are:
* Dr. Kathy Platoni, a clinical psychologist and retired U.S. Army colonel who continues to serve in the Ohio Military Reserve;
* Merle Wilberding, a Dayton attorney and U.S. Army veteran;
* Greene County resident Howard “Bud” May, an Air Force veteran;
* Ronald Dzikowski, a U.S. Navy veteran and Butler County resident.
The nearly 900 Hall members inducted since 1992 include household names such as Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, who served as a U.S. senator from Ohio and also a NASA astronaut. Most members lived quiet lives after serving their country.
Each year, 20 new honorees are selected.
Platoni said her selection surprised her.
“It certainly stopped me dead in my tracks,” she said. “This was totally unexpected.”
Practicing in Centerville today, she has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, and she is a survivor of the Fort Hood mass shooting, whose 10th anniversary was Nov. 5.
In all, she has deployed four times. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the the term ‘outside the wire,’ but that’s where I spent my deployments,” she said. “That’s where the need is the greatest.”
Platoni retired in the 2013 military drawdown, but continues to serve in the Ohio Military Reserve, a branch of the Ohio Army National Guard. With a focus on first-responders and veterans, she said she works seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, serving 18 area police departments and 2 fire departments.
She has worked with Dayton police since 2006. Last week, she found herself speaking with Dayton police officers who were involved in the execution of a Dayton search warrant that left a Dayton detective on life support after a shooting. (Police Detective Jorge Del Rio’s injuries were not survivable; a public visitation will be held at the University of Dayton Arena Monday night, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
“There is a profound sadness,” Platoni said of officers coming to grips with that and similar events. “They have been very, very hurt by this — especially since they have been exposed to so much trauma consecutively. I would say they are broken-hearted.”
Platoni said those are “normal reactions to exceedingly abnormal life circumstances.”
Army veteran and Dayton Coolidge Wall attorney Merle Wilberding will turn 75 in March. He has been a Dayton resident and local attorney since 1973, when he left the Army.
Wilberding was “surprised and gratified” when he learned of his induction into the Hall of Fame.
“It made me feel good that I made a little difference in the world, I think,” he said. “I was very appreciative.”
“More than anything else,” he added, “I was just amazed to be joining people like Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, the Medal of Honor winners and some major, major people in the state of Ohio.”
He said he still enjoys his legal practice, and has no immediate plans to retire.
While in the Army from 1969 to 1973, Wilberding served with the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) Corps, representing clients in the government appellate division in Washington D.C. He represented the Army on the appeals of courts martial in two historic cases – representing the Army in what was then known as the “Presidio Mutiny” case.
He also represented the Army and briefed and argued the case in the appeal of Lt. William Calley’s conviction in the My Lai case.
“They were big cases at the time, and they’re still big cases,” Wilberding said.
Veterans Day to him is an opportunity to recognize fellow vets across the United States – especially when a smaller and smaller slice of the population serves in uniform.
“When I was there, the draft was alive and well,” Wilberding said. “Most of the people I knew were in the service. It was true across the country. Now, it’s a much smaller group of people that serve more and more terms.”
When Wilberding served, soldiers generally shouldered one-year tours. Today, service can exact longer and a greater number of tours.
“I think they deserve a real sense of appreciation because in many ways it’s much more difficult to have recurring tours of duty in war zones than it was when I was in the military,” he said.
May, who will be 74 next month, is an Air Force veteran who served as a chaplain for 18 years for the Cedarville University men’s cross country team.
An Ohio native, he served in uniform from September 1969 to November 2002, leaving as a full colonel at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. May held two command positions, including at the Pentagon and elsewhere. He has served on the Greene County Veterans’ Commission, holding the presidency of that board for nearly 10 years.
“I really enjoyed the things I did,” May said, looking back on his career. “I didn’t do them to build a resume to get into something this. But I knew the significance.”
One of the most rewarding moments of his career was guest-lecturing at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for a former Cedarville student he mentored, Matthew Clark, who is today an Army major, combat veteran and a West Point course director.
May said he told the West Point students he was honored to be among them.
“I told them being a colonel is what I did,” he said. “It is not who I am.”
“Don’t build me up to be something greater than I am,” May added. “I’m just a blessed man.”
Dzikowski, a U.S. Navy veteran, 74, of West Chester Twp. in Butler County, graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in electrical engineering. In retirement, he has become a “devoted volunteer in multiple communities for both veteran and civic causes,” according to a Hall of Fame biography.
A former Navy radio operator, he has served with the American Red Cross, the Community Emergency Response Team and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. And he donates 550 hours annually to the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center as an outpatient van driver and event entertainer.
“It just a love of country and a willingness to do it,” Dzikowski said of his volunteer work. “You always gain more than what you (give).”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars has been a focal point for his volunteerism, and as a life member, he served four consecutive terms as commander of Post 7696 in West Chester.
Feelings of pride mix with humility on being inducted, he said.
“You feel very humble because you realize there are a lot of very great people who have been there before,” he said. “You start asking yourself if you measure up to their standards.”
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