'Hero's Way' memorial highway proposed to honor fallen soldiers

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seven months ago, Sgt. Bradley Skelton of Gordonville was killed in an explosion while serving in Iraq.

Now, his cousin and friend Steven Skelton applauds an effort by state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, and banker Ross Gartman designed to honor his cousin and other area fallen soldiers through an idea for a memorial highway.

Dubbed "Hero's Way," interchanges along Interstate 55 in Southeast Missouri would be named in honor of six fallen soldiers. Each dedicated exit would be near the solder's hometown. If additional soldiers were to die in combat, their names would be added to appropriate interchanges.

"What a wonderful idea to have these fallen soldiers honored in such a way," Skelton said. "These soldiers have given their all in the effort to protect our national security at home and abroad. We should all pause and reflect upon what they've done for us."

In late June, Gartman, a mortgage loan officer with the Bank of Missouri, proposed renaming I-55 exit 101 after Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson, who died Sept. 6, 2006, while serving in Balad, Iraq. Crowell suggested naming interchanges after additional Southeast Missouri fallen soldiers.

Crowell plans to introduce the memorial highway legislation when the senate reconvenes for its regular session in January, if he retains his seat in the November election.

Crowell said the majority of the funding will be raised through private donations, though he expects other funding could come from sources such as the Missouri Department of Transportation.

"I believe without hesitation this bill will pass," Crowell said.

Gartman believes the idea could be adopted in other areas of the state as well. He served alongside Skelton when the two were members of the Missouri National Guard's 1140th Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Jackson.

Two years ago, Skelton served a second tour in Iraq, this time with the 1138th Engineer Company based in Farmington, Mo. He was killed by an explosion in Baghdad on Feb. 6.

"Memorials like this are important in carrying on the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom," Gartman said. "Really, there are only two people who sacrificed their life for you on your behalf -- Jesus Christ and a soldier. One died for your salvation and the other for your freedom."

In addition to Bradley Skelton and Jeremy Shank, soldiers who would be commemorated are:

* Staff Sgt. Charles Sanders Jr. of Charleston, who died April 6, 2005, while serving in Ghanzi, Afghanistan.

* Sgt. Robert Davis of Jackson, who died Aug. 18, 2005, while serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

* Spc. Blake Hall of East Prairie, who died Aug. 21, 2005, while serving near Baylough, Afghanistan.

* Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas of Perryville, who died April 21 while serving in Bayji, Iraq.

Jeremy Shank's father, Jim, said that while nothing can replace the son he lost, enacting the memorial highway for his son and other fallen soldiers is a fitting tribute.

"I'm so proud of each of them," Shank said. "Every time I and others drive down that highway, we'll be reminded what a great and selfless act of service they did for their country."


335-6611, extension 137

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