Iraq war veteran Zack Gillespie had 274 dog tags made recently — one for every Ohioan who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq since the wars started in 2001 and 2003.
Gillespie, 28, and veteran activists Cassie Schumacher and Billy Volchko now hope to use the dog tags, flags and other memorabilia to create a memorial called “Fallen but not Forgotten.” They would like to put it inside an existing building somewhere in South Akron, near organizations and agencies that serve veterans.
They also have plans to create a bike co-op for veterans at the same place, providing bikes in exchange for volunteer hours.
Last June, Schumacher, 41, won her age category in the Race Across America, a 3,000-mile solo bike race from California to Maryland to raise awareness for veterans’ issues. She finished the course in about 13 days.
She founded a nonprofit group called Wheels 4 Change that has raised money for a variety of veterans’ causes, including $13,000 for a Vietnam veterans trip back to Vietnam through the Tallmadge-based group Warriors’ Journey Home.
The group has three events scheduled: Ride for the 23 on Aug. 17 to raise awareness of suicide among active-duty military personnel and veterans; the 500-mile Patriotic Race bike race Aug. 30 to Sept. 1; and a still-undetermined event for Veterans Day.
In February, the group raised about $10,000 during Pedal for Heroes: Remembrance Ride.
The Army recruiting office in Kent and the Kent State University ROTC program helped with production of the dog tags, said Gillespie, a Marine veteran and Kent resident who did two tours in Iraq and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
He’s in the process of also making a flag for each of the 274 fallen, and is seeking photographs of each to include in the memorial.
A lot of people tend to forget about the war casualties, Gillespie said, so it’s important to create visual memorials as a reminder.
Schumacher, Gillespie and Volchko, 23, chief operating officer of the group, said they want to raise $150,000 through fundraisers and grants, and hope someone might donate building space, perhaps close to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
The Fairlawn VFW is among groups trying to make it happen.
“We need people who give a crap about veterans,” said Schumacher, appealing for volunteers, including “people who are doers and not sayers and that want to stand with us.”
The parent name for the group is Wheels4change.org
The nonprofit organization operating the events is Pedalforheroesusa. org. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-272-3825.