“Remembering Our Fallen is a new traveling exhibit. It’s a photographic display of all the military members who were killed after 9-11. It also includes military members who were killed in training exercises after 9-11,” said Scott Sparks, who is part of the committee responsible for bringing the memorial to Monroeville.
“The city officials, the mayor, the city manager — they have all bent over backwards; it’s amazing the support that we are getting,” added the U.S. Air Force veteran.
The memorial most recently was in Cincinnati and Northville, Mich. American Legion Post 547, Sparks, Brian Watt and Doug Anderson have helped bring the exhibit to the MAC. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 17 through 19. There is no charge to visit the exhibit.
In December, the Sparks family received an invitation to have their late son’s name placed on the memorial.
“Me being the nosey guy I am, I checked it out and went to the website and made sure it was legitimate. They were looking for venues to have this. It kinda rolled out from there,” said Sparks, who retired from the Air Force in 2017 after 35 years of service.
His son, Jason, a 2003 Monroeville High School graduate, was 19 when he was killed in the line of duty Sept. 8, 2004, during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. He had been in the U.S. Army only for about seven months and was in Iraq a week before he died. Look for a tribute to Jason Sparks in the Reflector soon.
Scott Sparks checked with several local veterans and the American Legion, receiving support and enthusiasm for hosting the memorial.
When he learned Remembering Our Fallen would be in Michigan, he and Watt decided to check it out — despite it being in “enemy territory,” since Sparks is an admitted “Ohio State guy.”
“We got this thing rolling,” Sparks said, referring to bringing the memorial to Monroeville. “It’s working really well.”
Sparks said seeing the photo exhibit makes you realize how many other people have lost loved ones too.
“You realize you’re not alone in the whole thing,” he added, noting it’s bittersweet having his son and a fellow trooper in the memorial. “The exhibit is really cool; you get to see a personal side of them. You see a military picture and then you see a personal picture.
“Some of the men and women were single parents; some of them had a ton of kids,” Sparks said. “You think, ‘Wow — all those people were left behind, too.’”
Honoring those who took their lives
Sparks said he really appreciates that Remembering Our Fallen honors those members of the military who returned home, may have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and committed suicide sometime after Sept. 11, 2001.
That situation hits close to home.
“One of my troops (Toby Ramey) took his life seven years ago,” Sparks said. “He was a gem. He was a good, hard-working Shelby farm boy.”
Ramey was 29 when he died June 14, 2011, in Galion.
“I still talk to his family,” Sparks said. “I called them and told them and said, ‘There’s this exhibit.’ Within a couple hours, they had his stuff submitted. I just talked to the producer and she said, ‘I just did Toby’s proof yesterday and it will be on the panels.’”
Sparks shared how PTSD wasn’t discussed years ago.
“You just ignored it, you buried it and that’s the way it was,” he said.
“I don’t know that this (memorial) helps the families because there are so many unanswered questions, but it makes it more accepting to the individuals who don’t know a darn thing about it. … This is really serious; it brings it to the forefront … (and) it shows that these guys are just as good as these other guys over here. They have an internal battle of their own.”
Sparks’ wife, Lisa, said unless you’re from a military family or been in the service, it’s impossible to know what impact those experiences have on someone.
“There have been members of Jason’s troop who have committed suicide,” she added. “I don’t want everybody from this area to think that we are doing it just for Jason, because it isn’t.
“It brings me to back to Scott, who had an uncle who served in Vietnam, and for as long as I have been a part of this family, I have never heard him share anything. … They (Vietnam vets) kept so much inside.”
Remembering Our Fallen schedule
The Remembering Our Fallen exhibit will arrive in Monroeville early Aug. 17.
“It’s going to be a great week for the community and the whole surrounding area,” Scott Sparks said.
The memorial will arrive in a procession before it is set up in the MAC.
“I talked to Sheriff (Todd) Corbin and he’s going to meet them at the county line. I’m sure the fire department and police department will be there too,” Sparks said.
Anyone who is interested in donating gently used or new combat boots to line the streets of Monroeville is encouraged to call Scott Sparks at 419-706-2901, Bryan Watt at 419-541-0069 or Doug Anderson at 419-706-0241.
There will be an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Aug. 17.
“There is going to be a speaker who I am waiting to confirm before I say who it is,” Sparks said. “After that, all the families that have family members on the panels will have a private viewing after the opening ceremony.”
The American Legion in Monroeville will host a fish fry the night of Aug. 17.
At 10 a.m. the next day will be a “Welcome Home All Vietnam-Era Veterans” parade, which starts at Marsh Field. The parade will end at the MAC, where the Huron County Veteran Service Commission will hold a pinning ceremony.
“This (parade) is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Sparks, noting that Vietnam-era vets didn’t receive the welcome that other vets received years later.
A community celebration at Clark Park starts at 4 p.m. Aug. 18. The event will include refreshments, food vendors, “beer garden” and The Earthquakers will perform at 5 p.m.
“We will have a bunch of 50/50 drawings that night that will benefit some selected charities and stuff like that,” Sparks said.
The American Legion will host a chicken barbecue Aug. 19. A closing ceremony for the memorial will be at 5 p.m. at the MAC.