SUNBURY, Ohio (Army News Service, Nov. 13, 2006) -- He sat on a lawn across the street from the town cemetery, one of his favorite spots, and peered down over the gentle rolling slope to the empty field below. It was a pleasant, peaceful spring day in the small midwest town in April 2005, but his thoughts were several thousand miles away, with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan serving in the Global War on Terrorism.
A retired Vietnam veteran from Sunbury, Ohio, Jerry Jodrey served 26 years in the military. He spent eight years on active duty before transferring to the Ohio Army National Guard and spending the remainder of his career with 16th Engineer Brigade and retiring as a master sergeant.
As he pondered the current conflict and reflected back on his own service, a thought struck Jodrey. He wanted to find a way to honor this new generation of combat veterans-he would build a memorial for the troops and for their families, he said.
"They waited so long after Vietnam to build a memorial," Jodrey said. "It was not a very popular war and Soldiers were not recognized for the job they had done. So I didn't want to see another 40 years go by to recognize our current war veterans."
Jodrey realized that he first needed a place to build the memorial, so he began by enlisting the help of Mike O'Brien, the city administrator. O'Brien, who had served in the Army Reserve, invited Jodrey to look over possible plots of land owned by the Village of Sunbury. Oddly enough, the first piece of property O'Brien showed him was the same piece of land he had peered down upon only weeks prior when the idea to build a memorial first struck him. After looking at several other properties, Jodrey realized the initial property was ideal, he said.
"I told him, 'I think we want to be here,'" Jodrey said. "It's accessible, easy to get to, it's next to the town cemetery, which is appropriate, I think. The land had just been turned over to the Village of Sunbury and they didn't have any plans to do anything with it."
The pair drew up a proposal and submitted it to the city's board of administrators, who voted the same evening to donate the land as well as a granite monument. With a suitable property in hand, Jodrey began forming the Ohio Fallen Heroes (OFH) committee, drumming up financial support and soliciting volunteers to help construct the memorial park.
George Parker, a local architect, donated his time, expertise and staff to design the memorial park for the Ohio Fallen Heroes organization. The Sunbury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8736, of which Jodrey is post commander, donated the first $16,000. The initial contribution was spent to raise a flagpole and begin construction on the park's first phase, which in addition to the flagpole, included an Ohio-shaped granite monument designed by the OFH committee, as well as landscaping and concrete sidewalks.
"From the start of construction, we had 60 days to pull the opening together and get this thing ready for the July 1st dedication," Jodrey said. "Our schedule was tight. Phase one is complete and phase two will be complete July 1, 2007."
The project's second phase includes a field of marble crosses inscribed with the name, rank, branch of service and date of death for all Ohio servicemembers lost in the Global War on Terrorism. It will also include a chapel, a Courtyard of Honor housing an eternal flame, and a bronze sculpture in the shape of a traditional fallen Soldier memorial, with boots, rifle, helmet and dog tags. The total estimated price of the physical construction for the park is $450,000.
The final phase of the project consists of a scholarship fund for the children of Ohio's fallen servicemembers, and an operating and maintenance expense fund.
The memorial park's location, only nine miles from the geographical center of the state, was ideal for such a tribute, Bowman said. The small-town atmosphere of the Village of Sunbury also made for a fitting location, particularly for the state's nontraditional troops, Jodrey said.
"Most of our servicemembers come from small towns," Jodrey said. "Our National Guard and Reserve troops dropped their burdens by the wayside and picked up a rifle to defend their country. When the call came, they answered it. I wanted to do something to make sure they would never be forgotten."
For Jodrey, the memorial park has taken on a life of its own, he said. He spends most of his time coordinating with volunteers and committee members and soliciting donations to complete the project. He visits the site often, and talks about "his" veterans as if they were his own family members.
On this afternoon, he slowly strolls through the field of crosses. He lovingly tends to the markers, uses his thumb to wipe dirt off of one, then walks down to a another inscribed for Army Lt. Col. Dominic "Rocky" Baragona. He points to it and explains the two small rocks resting on the cross. Several members of Baragona's family live in Florida, but his father travels up periodically on business, Jodrey said. On his latest trip, he brought mementos from family members-two rocks bearing messages from family members.
"To Our Rock, Love always, Mom and Dad," reads one. "To Rocky, our hero forever," reads the other.
He stops for a moment, collects himself, and points to another cross. As he ambles toward it, he begins talking about that Airmen's mother, whom he spoke with at the dedication, points to another and talks about the family members of that Marine, more than 20 of them, who also attended.
He looks up at the sound of tires crunching on gravel. Bowman has returned and with him is Gene Fuller, another project volunteer, who is in charge of construction. The men are all smiles as they greet one another and give updates on their progress.
"I think it's the right thing to do," Fuller says of his volunteer work at the park. "I'm honored to have a part in it."
Fuller is one of eight active members, with an average age of 66, on the OFH committee, Bowman said.
"They're very emotionally and physically involved," he said. "These guys were literally constantly beating on doors and coming out to help out construct it. They're 65 years old, pushing wheelbarrows, doing physical labor and getting their hands dirty to get it done."
To learn more, visit http://www.ohiofallenheroes.org.