Mother seeks sign for son who died in Iraq


By Todd G. Higdon
Posted Feb. 21, 2016 at 1:14 AM

For the last few years while traveling across Missouri, have you noticed a sign with the words “Heroes Way” and wonder what it was?
The answer is a way to honor those killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the two most recent and present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For one Neosho mother, Peggy Whipp, she is in process of the filling out the application for a sign to honor her son, Master Sgt. Thomas A. Crowell of the United States Air Force.
Crowell was killed in an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion in Iraq on Nov. 1, 2007. The 1989 Neosho High School graduate was a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, deployed to Balad Air Force Base, Iraq.
Whipp was contacted Thursday by Ross Gartman, founder and president of Heroes Way, which is based out of Cape Girardeau. On Saturday at the Praying Hands memorial (inside King Jack Park) in Webb City, the application was signed by Whipp to start the process.
Heroes Way
The organization was started in 2008 to honor Gartman’s friend, Brad Skelton.
“I spent 16 years in the military. I was in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2005. I was a combat engineer, a squad leader and combat engineer battalion,” Gartman said. “One of our team leaders was Brad, who was a lifelong friend of mine. When we got back, he retired and our old unit got reactivated to go in 2007, 2008. On Feb. 6, 2008, he was killed by an IED. With that happening, I just knew who Brad was and decided that I wanted to do something to honor him and remember that sacrifice.
“It just grew into the highway memorial signs. With me doing all of the talking with the different communities and the different organizations inside our community, we had four other people right there in our immediate area.”
After talking with others, the list grew. “I said, ‘Hey, they all ought to be honored.’ That grew into legislation being passed.”
The process
“Family members fill out the application, a state representative will sign it as a sponsor, it will go to Jefferson City, and then it has to run through an approval committee,” he said.
The family submits a certificate of death, cause of death and a military form to verify being killed in combat. If the application is approved, it goes to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). MoDOT contacts the family to find out where it wants the sign and when to have an unveiling ceremony.
Families also must pay for the signs.
“Unfortunately in the state of Missouri, the cost of those signs are $3,600,” Gartman said. “The burden of paying for those signs falls back on the family. I find that just appalling to ask a mother or a father or a wife or a brother to hear, ‘Hey, we understand your loved one paid the ultimate sacrifice. Could you give us $3,600? We will go ahead and do something for him.’”
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Fallen soldier from Jefferson County becomes the latest honored on Missouri's 'Heroes Way'

wooderson sign

JEFFERSON COUNTY • Army Spc. Matthew Walker graduated from Grandview High School in 2012.

It’s the school where he played as an offensive lineman on the football team and where he came to say goodbye before being deployed overseas.

On Friday, a sign honoring the young soldier, killed in Afghanistan, was unveiled in the gym of the school, where his football jersey hangs framed in a weight room.

It’s the newest of the state’s Heroes Way signs, which are placed along Missouri roads to honor members of the military killed in the line of duty.

Walker, 20, was an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division.

He died June 5, 2014, in southeastern Afghanistan of injuries suffered when his unit was hit by enemy fire.

The Heroes Way legislation first passed in 2009, allowing interstate interchanges to be designated for Missouri residents in the armed forces killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan on or after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

That law was expanded in 2011 to include state highway interchanges, and again in 2015 to include bridges and highway segments. A state legislator must sponsor the designation, which Rep. Ben Harris, D-Hillsboro, did for Walker.

But the law mandated no funding source, and signs can cost upwards of $3,000.

“I absolutely found that appalling. I couldn’t believe that after a family suffers what they suffer, that they’d be told to write a check,” said Ross Gartman of Cape Girardeau, who founded the Heroes Way organization to raise money to pay for the signs — including for Walker’s family.

He began the nonprofit to honor his friend, Bradley Skelton. The two men served in Iraq in the Missouri National Guard together — Gartman was a squad leader, Skelton a team leader.

Skelton was killed in 2008 in Baghdad during his second tour in Iraq when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

Exit 96 on Interstate 55 in southeastern Missouri is named for Skelton.

The sign honoring Walker will be posted at Highways 21 and A in Hillsboro.

“Every time you drive by the sign, remember that he was one of your own,” Gartman told the crowd Friday who came to watch the dedication, an audience that included high school students.

Heather Wooderson, Walker’s mother, sees that intersection almost every day.

As she drove to work last week, she passed the stakes in the ground where the sign will go.

“It sent chills up my spine,” she said. “I don’t ever want my son to be forgotten. If anything, I hope somebody will drive by who doesn’t know him and they’ll Google his name and take five minutes to learn who he was.”

About 15 soldiers who died in the line of duty from the St. Louis area qualify for such signs, Gartman said.

The next area fallen soldier to be honored with a sign is Army Sgt. Zachary Fisher of Ballwin.

He was 24 when he was killed in a bomb attack in 2010 in Afghanistan.

A ceremony is set for noon on April 16 at Ballwin City Hall to dedicate his sign.




Group Holds Fundraiser for Commemorating Fallen Soldiers


State Sen. Wayne Wallingford, left, poses with Susan and Jim Jacobs, who on Saturday received a signed copy of a bill that allows memorial signs for soldiers be placed along highways throughout the state. Their son, Zachary Fisher, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and signs in his honor soon will be placed in Fisher's hometown of Ballwin, Missouri.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jim and Susan Jacobs of Ballwin, Missouri, have been waiting more than three years to have memorial highway signs erected in honor of their son, Zachary Fisher, 24, who was killed in 2010 when insurgents in Afghanistan attacked his military vehicle with an improvised explosive device.


Now, with help from the local not-for-profit Heroes Way, the Jacobs soon will see the signs along a well-traveled highway in Ballwin, honoring Fisher who was known for his big heart and the love he had for his family and friends.

In 2009, the state of Missouri passed a bill that allows relatives of Missourians who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom to ask that an interstate interchange be named in a soldier's honor.

The Jacobs wanted to place the signs where they'd be seen each day by his friends and family in Ballwin, but since the bill limited the signs to interstate interchanges, the signs couldn't be erected within Fisher's hometown.

So, the Jacobs and Heroes Way worked with legislators to change the bill, allowing the signs to be an option for those in rural and other areas.

And at a Heroes Way fundraising event Saturday in Jackson, the couple was presented with a signed copy of the recently revised bill by state Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau.

"It's always exciting when the governor signs a bill, but this was more than exciting," Wallingford said. "This was truly humbling to have the governor sign this particular bill."

The Jacobs on Saturday also completed an application for those signs, which will be placed along Highway 100 in Ballwin.

"We'll get to see his signs all the time," Susan Jacobs said, adding so will his friends. "They'll all tell you that he was their best friend."

The Jacobs were among several families honored at the fifth annual "Minute to Win it" event Saturday, which is the organization's signature fundraiser, said Heroes Way president Ross Gartman of Delta.

Tables at the event included biographies, photographs and dog tags with the names of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two other families who lost a loved one also completed applications to have signs placed near their hometowns.

Gartman, who served 16 years as an Army National Guard combat engineer in the 1140th Engineer Battalion, founded Heroes Way in 2008 after an improvised explosive device killed his friend and fellow soldier, Brad Skelton, in Iraq.

The organization has since been dedicated to memorializing Missouri soldiers who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan by having road signs erected in their honor along Missouri highways close to the soldiers' hometowns.

The Missouri Department of Transportation collects a fee of $3,600 for the installation and maintenance of the signs, and Heroes Way works with communities to raise the needed funds for the memorials, preventing families from being burdened by the cost. The organization also serves as a liaison between the family and MoDOT.

"When we did the first sign, it was extremely powerful," Gartman said. "Every individual soldier has a story, and so do their families. They're all unique in their own way."

The Jacobs were able to raise a portion of the cost for their son's signs, and Heroes Way will pay the remainder.

"Every soldier deserves a sign," Susan Jacobs said. "What we always said about Zach is that he's forever loved, forever missed and he's forever our hero. And everybody needs to know that. That's why we never gave up."

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