MANSFIELD — It was a bittersweet day for Scott Sparks and his family.
The Monroeville man was honored Sunday with a program and celebration of his retirement from the United States Air Force at the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield.
He no longer is Senior Master Sgt. Scott Sparks. He is now retired Senior Master St. Scott Sparks.
And he likes it.
“I don’t know yet,” he said with a big smile after the event. “I’m taking it easy right now.”
It was quite a day as many of his friends and family were on hand, including his wife, Lisa, his daughter, Sarah, mom, dad and grandma. One by one, people in the crowd stood up and shared stories about Scott. It was obvious he will leave a lot of good friends behind.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “Just them showing up. I have worked with those people for a lot of years. It is just amazing. We have been through quite a bit together. Base closures. Airplane changes, Deployment. It’s amazing. But we all worked together.”
Sparks talked a number of times during the ceremony about his two families — the one in Monroeville and his Air Force family.
And he needed his entire family — and then some — to get through the death of his son, Jason Sparks.
Sparks was a 2003 graduate of Monroeville High School and was assigned to the U.S. Army, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment in Camp Casey, South Korea. He had been in Iraq less than one week when he was killed in action in September 2004.
Something like that would be devestating for anybody, and Sparks said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“You can’t do this without family,” Sparks said. “It’s tough. ... My family has supported me this whole time.”
Was Jason there Sunday afternoon?
“Yes he was,” his proud father said.
The whole community banded together after Jason’s death. A portion of U.S. 20 is named in his honor. A baseball field at Clark Park was built and dedicated to Jason, and Sarah stepped up to raise money for a drop-down flag in the school gymnasium.
Bob Jones and a crew of seven helped set posts for the baseball field. He took a day off from work and talked about just how special the people of Monroeville and the surrounding area were to do something in honor of Jason Sparks.
"There wouldn't be anything without volunteers,” Jones said at the time. “In a small village like Monroeville it takes volunteers. ... It's a real effort of the whole community."
The community was like a third family for Sparks, and you can bet he appreciates each and every one of them who was there to lend a helping hand.
Like he said many times Sunday, he couldn’t have done it without his family.
And what a family it is.
Joe Centers is Reflector managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.