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Beacon Back Stories: Memorials to local fallen heroes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 10, 2013 - You might have passed by the new highway sign on Interstate 270 at Ladue Road in honor of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Clark who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Or the memorial park in Festus named for Army Pfc. Andy Habsieger who died in Iraq in 2008.

As I come across these tributes in communities throughout our region, they always give me pause. Someone in this place lost a loved one -- a parent or child, a good friend or neighbor -- in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Perhaps I notice them because of a park bench I often walk past in my own community of Troy, Ill., that honors Senior Airman Bradley R. Smith who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 while rescuing fallen comrades. He was awarded the Silver Star. Attached to this bench is a poignant tribute: a photo of his baby girl.

For this Memorial Day I suggested to the Beacon editors that we write about these memorials that are miles away from the nation’s large military cemeteries and monuments but are closer to our hearts -- in the very communities where we live and work and play. The wars are winding down; the sacrifice is not forgotten.

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a website for a nonprofit called “Heroes Way” that has a meaningful mission: to raise funds to buy memorial roadway markers honoring Missouri’s sons and daughters who died in the nation’s post 9/11 war on terror. I’ll be speaking with the gentleman who organized the foundation to learn about that effort.

I’m also hoping to enlist the assistance of local community and veterans organizations in mapping the locations of these tributes so that area residents can watch for them.

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