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Widow of fallen soldier praises Veterans Memorial Park dedication in Ohio

Veterans Memorial Park in Whitehouse, Ohio

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By BROOKS SUTHERLAND | The (Toledo, Ohio) Blade | Published: September 22, 2019

TOLEDO, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — On May 7, 2005 — Mother’s Day — Tiffany Eckert received a phone call she would never forget.

It came from her husband, Sgt. Andy Eckert, an Anthony Wayne High School graduate who was a member of the Army Reserve 983rd Engineering Battalion serving in Iraq. She said the call from her spouse, who was known to be deliberate, was an “intentional” message. He wanted to talk to his wife, who was just 23 at the time, in case something happened to him. The Eckerts’ two children, Marlee Freedom and Myles, were 20 months and four weeks old at the time.

“He told me, ‘Tiffany, I want to be somewhere in the Anthony Wayne community. I want you and the kids to be there. I want them to be [Anthony Wayne] Generals,’ ” Ms. Eckert said. “I want to be buried somewhere where you can see me.”

Four hours later, Sgt. Eckert was killed when a roadside bomb blew up his convoy vehicle. He was the 1,600th soldier to die during the American occupation of Iraq. He was only 24.

Eckert said that phone call has given her a sense of comfort during the past 14½ years and on Saturday, she felt even more solace.

On a hot day in front of a large crowd of community members, elected officials, and veterans from all military branches, Veterans Memorial Park in Whitehouse was officially dedicated to become a space that honors military veterans and first responders.

Eckert said that though her husband is memorialized all over the country for his ultimate sacrifice, this memorial means the most to her family.

“This is home,” she said. “The Anthony Wayne community is home, this is where Andy wanted to be forever and this is where he will be forever on this monument for years and years after we’re all long gone, people will read his name and for me that is a victory.”

“He was amazing,” she added. “He would have been the best dad, the best husband. And all these years later, oftentimes people are like, ‘Move on with your life.’ I will never, ever, ever stop loving Andy Eckert. And it’s simply because he’s my forever.”

U.S. Reps. Bob Latta, R.-Ohio, and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, joined Whitehouse Mayor Don Atkinson at the event to honor fallen veterans from the community.

“It is just beautiful,” Kaptur said of the park. “Honoring those who have been in service to our country both living and dead whose names are inscribed here on the memorial. … It gives people who travel here — and there are many — and those who live here a chance to reflect on the price of liberty.”

Addressing the large crowd, Latta praised the park and urged crowd members to thank veterans continually.

“To be able to be here with you all today — it just shows what America is all about,” he said. “… It’s so important to remember them.”

Atkinson said the idea for the monument started five years ago. After an initial idea to move a local Confederate statue to the park, the community decided to bring the veterans’ memorial to Providence Street, a visible stretch to people passing by. After many donations and lots of hard work, he says the idea was brought to fruition.

“This is really the heart and soul of our community,” he said. “We chose this particular spot right in the main drag of our town so that nobody could come through Whitehouse without seeing our appreciation for our military, our safety forces, and and to know that they were in a community that supported them, 100%.”

Craig Kemmer, 72, an Army veteran who served from 1966 to 1968, attended the event and said the park is a great way for veterans who return home to cope with the loss of their comrades. He said it gives the community a real chance to remember its heroes.

“It’s difficult because the first thing that you think of are those that have given their lives for their country,” he said. “Obviously, the people that are giving tribute haven’t lost their life. … It’s a reminder of those that sacrificed their life. And you just like to give them your own little prayer.”

Sgt. Eckert is one of 26 soldiers who will be commemorated on a wall at the park. Tiffany Eckert said the monument will give people “perspective,” allowing them to understand better what some families have gone through

“Every single name represents a family that lost out,” she said, “children like mine, that grew up without their dad — this is bigger than all of us.”

Her message to the community: “Please never, ever, ever forget the fallen or those who are living and have served.”

©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
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