When members of the Sunbury Lions Club recently presented a check to Neal Kruse, president and site manager of the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial, someone noticed coins on the markers.
Kruse asked if anyone knew the significance of the coins, and a veteran among the Lions Club answered — a penny meant you knew the deceased; a nickel meant you trained with them; a dime meant you served with them; and a quarter meant you were with them when they died in the Global War on Terrorism.
There were a couple of quarters on the 289 markers, Kruse said, which provided solace for the Gold Star Families whose beloved servicemen and servicewomen are represented in the memorial at 79 ½ West Cherry St., Sunbury.
At the end of April, the Sunbury Lions Club held a Reverse Raffle, and it was so successful, the group has decided to make it an annual event. At their May meeting, the Lions presented a check for $4,750 to Susan Barr, founder of the Columbus Honor Flight Program. On May 31, the club presented a $5,050 check to Kruse at the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial.
Kruse said the site, the first of its kind in the country, added two markers this year and could hold another 60 markers, but hoped they will never be needed. They also typically replace a white granite marker every year. The neatly-landscaped OFHM also has an eternal flame, chapel, flags for all branches of the military, and courtyard for an all-night vigil memorial service with a changing of the guard every 15 minutes.
“We rely completely on donations,” Kruse said. “We’re trying to make an emotional connection.”
One of those with an emotional connection is a local celebrity we won’t name, who annually purchases and places American flags along each marker in honor of Memorial Day. And on a rainy morning around Valentine’s Day, children placed roses at each Ohioan’s marker.
There are a couple more opportunities for people to support the nonprofit OFHM this year. On Aug. 11, the 12th annual Memorial Ride starts at 10 a.m. from A.D. Farrow, 7754 state Route 37 E., Sunbury, and goes about 100 miles to Chapel Hill Golf Course, 7516 Johnstown Road, Mount Vernon. The OFHM Golf Invitational is Aug. 12 at the same course. There will be a public ceremony at the OFHM on 4:30 p.m. Sept. 8 as part of the 13th annual Gold Star Family Reception to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001. One can also order a brick to be placed in the courtyard.
OFHM was founded in 2005 by local veterans, and it was dedicated in June 2007.
“When I built the OFHM in 2005, my sole purpose was to never let those soldiers who died in battle during the War on Terrorism ever be forgotten,” said Jerry Jodrey, Commander at VFW Post 8736 of Sunbury. “We always had families in mind. I wanted to leave something for these families. When I’m gone, it can continue on. I’m a Vietnam veteran — we didn’t get that back in those days. We weren’t very well liked. But I didn’t want to let that go on another 20, 40 years without recognizing these soldiers.”
Jodrey said fraternal organizations have given a lot of support for the memorial over the years. For example, in February, the OFHM received a check for $2,500 from the Delaware Eagles Aerie, collected from Bingo proceeds, said member Mike Williams.
“We didn’t want them to be forgotten,” said Eagles member Bill Cole. “The only thing worse than death is being forgotten.”
“My son has a cross there,” said member Jerry Myers. “Zachary is in the 18th row, 1st cross. These folks have done a lot for him through the memorial.”
“We’re paying tribute to people who made the sacrifice,” said Eagles member Brian Hammond. “They’re the ones who kept us free and made this possible. We have to get people more aware.”
The Village of Sunbury provided the land for the OFHM, next to the library.
“Sunbury is very proud of the men and women who served our country,” said Mayor Tommy Hatfield. “While it’s sad to drive down there and see all those crosses and what they represent, we’re so proud to have this in our community. It’s an honor that you’re here, we appreciate what you’re doing.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.