BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — It’s been over 50 years since Robert King, Tom Marriman and William Mershman died while serving in Vietnam, but Rev. Robert Fry still remembers his friends from Delphos, Ohio.
“One of them, we went on a double date to prom. The last I saw him was at a gas station. He said, ‘I’ll see you in two years,’” recalled Fry, who served in the Navy from 1969 to 1973.
It was December 12, 1985 when Arrow Flight 1285 stopped in Gander, Newfoundland to refuel on the way back to Fort Campbell, Ky., after a six-month peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula in the Middle East. The plane exploded shortly after takeoff and 248 soldiers were killed.
Rob Eisenmann was serving in the Army’s 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell at the time.
“I performed 75 funeral duties,” said Eisenmann, who attends a memorial service at Fort Campbell every year to remember those who died that day.
To remember and honor those who died in the line of duty or served their country, Heritage Church of God annually installs a Field of Flags in front of the Monclova Township church, said member Lynette Bryant.
Bryant, whose late husband, father-in-law and brother all served in the Navy, visited the Field of Heroes in Westerville six years ago and returned determined to bring that vision to her church. Rev. Fry immediately agreed, and Bryant quickly got support from other church members, including Eisenmann and the Brandeberry family.
Gene Brandeberry served in the Army National Guard at the 180th Fighter Wing from 1976 to 1982. His father-in-law, Lou Spence, was an Army paratrooper from 1963 to 1967 and owns a sawmill operation. Spence created the crosses, which were then glued and sanded by Eisenmann. Another volunteer painted them, and the entire congregation supported the purchase of the 76 flags.
Gene, his wife Yvonne and their children Jacob, Grace and Isaiah, along with Eisenmann and Bryant, were among those who installed the flags and crosses, a fallen soldier silhouette and lighting on November 7 on the lawn in front of the church.
The first year, the flags were up for one day. Now, the display will remain up for a week, through Sunday, November 14. Next year, Bryant hopes to expand the display to include a gathering for veterans.
“We honor our veterans every year. We don’t want people to forget. We tell them that these men and women never got to go to a Christmas party, get married or have children,” Rev. Fry said.
The church, formerly South Cove Boulevard Church of God, opened at 3520 Strayer Rd. on April 16, 2000. For more information, visit http://heritagetoledo.church/ or see Heritage Church Toledo on Facebook.