Heroes Way Founder Explains His Mission

Ross Gartman, president of Heroes Way, told the crowd at the Veterans Day Ceremony at Missouri State Veterans Cemetery about his friend who was the inspiration for Heroes Way. In July 2009, the State of Missouri passed the Heroes Way Bill, formally known as the "Heroes Way Interstate Inter-change Designation Program," which allows relatives of Missourians who died in combat during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom to ask that an interstate interchange or a section of a state highway be named in the soldier's honor.


Bradley Joe Skelton was a friend of Gartman's in the Missouri National Guard and they both served in Iraq. Skelton was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in 2008.

Gartman said Skelton shattered an ankle during training and could have used that as an excuse to end his military career. Instead, Skelton rehabbed the ankle in "half the time" that was expected and returned to his unit to be deployed to Iraq. He served in Iraq and then came home. Several years later he volunteered to go back to Iraq and was killed. Gartman said the unit grew very close and he considered Skelton as a family member.

"When I got back I wanted to do something to memorialize him," Skelton told the crowd.


He began looking for ways to do just that, but met with little success. While traveling to gain support for his project he heard about many others who deserved to be honored for their service. He then began lobbying in Jefferson City to have some way to honor fallen soldiers in these two conflicts. He successfully helped get a bill passed to allow the Missouri Department of Trans-portation (MoDOT) to erect signs honoring these soldiers. Memorial signs are placed near an honoree's hometown and MoDOT collects a fee for the erection and maintenance of the signs.

Gartman didn't quit there. The cost of the sign is approximately $2,200 and he didn't thinks it was right that the "families of the men who sacrificed so much" should have to bear the cost of these memorials.

"It made me sick," he said.

"Heroes Way is committed to joining together with local communities to raise the necessary funds for the memorials, so that the families will not be burdened by the cost," Gartman said.

He also related the story of Robert Davis whose family he met while working to help pass Heroes Way. Davis was able to return home when his wife gave birth to a son, Braden. Davis was home for two weeks at that time, but then returned to active duty. He was killed shortly afterward without ever getting to know his son.

Gartman told of his developing friendship with Braden.

"Braden never got to throw the football around with his dad or do any of the things boys do with their dad," he noted.

Now Braden is a companion of Gartmanas he travels the state to speak at gatherings and business events to help raise money for Heroes Way.

Gartman related some of his experiences while in the Guard and thanked every veteran who had "fought to make this country free."

He ended his program by talking about love.

"A soldier's love for his country, his family and his community leads him to make the ultimate sacrifice," said Gartman. "We owe the of debt of gratitude and honor."

Gartman served for 16 years in the Guard as a combat engineer and medical supply specialist. He served as squad leader in Operation Iraqi Freedom and as a private in Operation Desert Storm.

He is member of the Cape Girardeau Ameri-can Legion, a graduate of Leadership Jackson and was named the Jackson Community Service Person of the Year. He resides in Delta with his wife, Denise, and their children: Dalton, 14, Jessie 12, and Sydney, 8.

Ken Swearengin, SMSGT, USAF retired, offered the opening comments at the ceremony. State Rep. Billy Pat Wright and Sen. Rob Mayer also addressed the crowd and thanked all veterans for their service to the country. Both related personal experiences about the sacrifices made by men and women who elected to serve their country and the huge debt that is owed to them.

Gary Kitchen, SgtFC, US Army retired, presided over the POW/MIA table ceremony. Each element on the table that was set in front of the podium stood for the service of the veteran and the loss suffered by family.

Bagpipes for the ceremony were provided by Robert Gill and Danny Baughn. Ginny Grapf sang the National Anthem, and Herb Zaricor gave the invocation. The Bloomfield High School band provided music prior to the start of the ceremony.

Source: http://www.dailystatesman.com/story/1784527.html 

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