Heroes Way holds fundraiser to honor fallen soldiers

Around 150 people gathered at Cape County Park North on Saturday morning to take part in the first March for Memories, a fundraiser walk around the park's pond. The path of the walk was marked every 40 feet with small paper signs with the name of a different Missouri soldier who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan written on them.

The event was sponsored by Heroes Way, a local organization dedicated to memorializing Missouri soldiers who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan by having road signs erected in their honor along Missouri highways close to the soldiers' hometowns.

Heroes Way was founded by Ross Gartman in 2008, who serves as the organization's president. He served 16 years as an Army National Guard combat engineer in the 1140th Engineer Battalion.

Heroes Way wants to pay for the memorials so the soldiers' families are not burdened by the cost, according to group's Facebook page.

"Our goal [for this event] is to raise enough money to cover the cost for a couple of signs," Gartman said. "If we do that we'll be happy."

Three area servicemen have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. Army Cpl. Jeremy Shank, National Guard Staff Sgt. Brad Skelton and U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Davis. Heroes Way paid for the highway sign memorials of all three soldiers.

"We're trying to find national organizations to donate," Gartman said. "Just over $200,000 will take care of funding for all the fallen soldiers in the state of Missouri. Corporations are going to donate the money to someone, and basically we're trying to reach out and say 'we'd like to be the non-profit they invest in.'"

Amanda Davis, widow of Robert Davis, is vice president of Heroes Way and was involved in organizing the March for Memories event.

"Without proceeds, signs don't get put up. ... When a soldier makes the ultimate sacrifice and we can't put up a road sign, that's very sad," Davis said. "It bothers me that people don't realize this is a lasting tribute. Our son, Brayden, sees that sign when we drive down the highway and he knows that's his dad."

The total of money raised wasn't known by Saturday afternoon, Gartman said, but early registration for the event raised enough to honor at least one more soldier in addition to the two who are already scheduled, one for Pfc. Matthew England on April 14 in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and one for Sgt. Michael Beckerman on May 12 in Ste. Genevieve, Mo.

After the memorial walk, Cape Girardeau VFW Post 3838 posted colors and a soldier's roll call was taken for the 99 Missouri soldiers killed in action, a bell tolling after each name.

The event ended with taps, played on trumpet by Narvol Randol, Jr., whose father Narvol Randol Sr. was a veteran.

Of the 99 Missouri soldiers who have died, 12 of have been memorialized with the road signs to date. The road signs, which are made, erected and maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation, cost $2,200 per set of two -- one for each side of the road to face oncoming traffic. 

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