When Christine Schreiner talks about her youngest son, Andrew, she effuses love and pride, but sometimes spoken words aren’t enough.
So she enlisted the help of her husband, Russell Stanger, and Andrew’s girlfriend, Sarah Van Heel, to paint, “We Love you, Andrew” on the side of their white barn in St. Wendel in bold red letters easily read by passersby on Stearns County Road 3.
“Go big or go home,” Schreiner said.
Andrew Schreiner, a lance corporal in the Marines, deployed to Afghanistan April 7. After he deployed, Christine Schreiner said Andrew would ask if his friends had stopped by to inquire about him, and she felt the responsibility of a parent and an American to show her support for her son.
“I think there is always the mindset of wondering, ‘What’s it going to be like when I get back?’” she said. “I wanted to show him he’s never forgotten.”
Schreiner said they used a projector to trace the phrase “God Bless Our Troops. The Few. The Proud. The Brave.” on one end of the barn and “We Love you, Andrew” on the other. The next day they filled in the outlines using red and blue paint and Schreiner sent a picture to Andrew on Facebook.
“At first I think he was taken aback by how much he was missed, and he was very happy and surprised,” she said.
The message was meant as a personal tribute to their son, and Schreiner and Stanger said they didn’t realize how much their gesture would impact the community.
Motorcyclists salute and drivers honk their horns as they pass by the barn, Schreiner said, and people often stop to get a closer look, including an elderly woman whose husband and son had served in the Marines.
“Russell and I just feel so honored by the people who stop by to thank us,” Schreiner said.
Among the painted red letters are hand-written messages to Andrew from family, friends and strangers. Stanger said they always leave a black Sharpie hanging on the barn so even if they aren’t home people can still write a personal note.
“A father and his son stopped by to sign the barn one time,” he said. “The father was taking his son to leave for the Marines the next day.”
Schreiner and Stanger said it’s simple things they miss most about Andrew, such as being able to call him or have him help around the house. The different time zones make communication difficult, and they can Skype with Andrew only for about 30 seconds at a time before the Internet connection goes out. Although they can write messages on Facebook, Schreiner said she wants Andrew to stay focused on his job.
Schreiner said there is a strong military tradition in their family. Her father was also in the Marines and served as a sergeant in the honor guard. Stanger was an Army Ranger and served in the infantry for more than eight years, and his father was in the 82nd Airborne Division in the Army.
Schreiner said she doesn’t know when Andrew will come home, and when he does find out he isn’t going to tell her.
“He said he’s just going to show up,” she said.