SIDNEY — “Honoring our veterans, preserving our heritage.”
The Shelby County Vets to D.C. committee is on another mission.
“This will probably be our last hurrah,”said Mike Bennett, committee chairman. “We’ve honored the veterans who are alive by taking them to their memorials in Washington, D.C. We’ve honored those who have passed away by participating in the Wreaths Across America program.
“Now we are going to do something to honor those who died for their country,” he said. “We figured this would be a good wrap-up for our committee.”
And that mission, said Bennett, has been a work in progress for more than a year.
“We are making signs which will be placed on bridges throughout Shelby County,” said Bennett. “Each sign will have the person’s name and the war in which they were killed. Each sign will have different names as we’ve identified the person by their place of residence.”
Bennett said he first learned of the project during the 2016 Veterans Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“One of the guys inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame had done it in his county,” said Bennett.”I asked myself ‘Why can’t we do this in Shelby County?’ I talked with County Engineer Bob Geuy about the project. He talked with others in the community and everyone thought it was a great idea.”
Bennett said he began his research by visiting the Veterans Service Office, which has a honor roll of all county residents who died in a war.
“There are approximately 500 to 530 Shelby County residents who were killed in the line of duty,” said Bennett. “While doing my research, some of the names were the same person but their name might have been spelled differently.
“We are honoring all fallen heroes who died in combat,” said Bennett. “There’s a number of categories the people fit into. The person might have died in battle. Or they died of their wounds in a prison camp or hospital. Or they died in a training accident.
“It’s fascinating to me how many people died in ways other than being shot up or blown up,” said Bennett. “One person enlisted in the Air Corps. They were involved in a plane crash which killed six people. This was a training death.”
The military, said Bennett, classifies as combat related or noncombat incidents, such as a training accident. Other noncombat deaths, he said, are those where a person died in an accident while on leave.
“There were some who died in car crashes while they were home on leave between basic training and their designated assignment,” said Bennett. “A car crash while in theatre is also considered a noncombat death.”
Bennett said while researching the military deaths, he learned more about Shelby County.
“I found all kinds of places in Shelby County that I never knew existed,” said Bennett. “One of the places was Berlin, where people enlisted. It was located by Fort Loramie.
“There was one soldier that signed up and went to Camp Sherman for training. He died of pneumonia,” said Bennett.
In addition to the names of the signs, it will also contain the statement “Shelby County veterans who died while serving their country.”
Bennett said the project started out with the idea of honoring only Shelby County natives. That plan changed as they discovered people enlisted in the county while not being born here.
“A number of people were born somewhere else,” said Bennett. “Some were born in German and came over here and enlisted in a unit in Shelby County.
“Then we looked at where was the person buried? If they were buried in Shelby County, we included them on the signs. We also included those who enlisted and served in a unit made up mostly of Shelby County veterans.
“We looked for all possible links of the person to Shelby County,” said Bennett. “One man was on a boat and was washed off it. His body was never found and so there is no burial site. Another one was of three guys whose plane crashed in a typhoon.”
The links, he said, also included where they enlisted, where they got married, where they went off to war and died, and their family and whether they lived in Shelby County.
Barbara Adams, said Bennett, had completed a lot of the research he used in his mission. Sharon Mohrbacher, administrative assistant at the Ross Historical Center, also helped with the research.
“Sharon went through obituaries looking for links to Shelby County,” said Bennett.
Working with Geuy, said Bennett, has allowed the concept of the project to be refined.
“Bob’s office is picking out the bridges where the signs will be placed,” said Bennett. “We want to make sure the signs get the most exposure possible.”
Bennett said there will be signs on 20 to 22 bridges throughout the county.
“We’re going down to the township levels with the signs,” he said.
The first sign created is for Clinton Township, he said.
“If people really want to see them, they will stop and read them,” said Bennett. “We want to put them in places where people can see them.”
Bennett said a lot of research has gone into the process of placing the people in the right townships.
“It’s not a complete 100 percent historical,” said Bennett. “But we’ve taken the research and gone as far as we could go. If we had no means on what township to place them in, we put them in Clinton Township, since that includes Sidney and is the county seat.”
In March, he said, the holes will be dug and signs will be put up.
“At each village celebration in 2019, we have an unveiling of the sign in conjunction with Shelby County’s 200th anniversary celebration,” said Bennett.
Clinton Township, he said, will have more signs because of the larger population of the area.
“Each sign will be different,” said Bennett. “There are four signs possible in Clinton Township. Each sign might have 24 names on it.”
He said they are still finalizing how many names will be on each sign and how big the type will be for the names.
“There are 14 townships in the county,” said Bennett.
We’ll be meeting with the trustees so they’ll know what’s going on,” he said.
Bennett said the group will be at several upcoming farmer’s markets in downtown Sidney to talk about the sign project and Wreaths Across America. He said he can also talk to any service organization or group who would like more information about either project.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the sign project can send the donation to Shelby County Vets to D.C., P.O. Box 408, Anna, OH 45302. In the memo line of the check, write “Sign Project.”
“The signs will last 10 years,” said Bennett. “So we’ll be raising funds for future replacement and maintenance of the signs.”
The signs are being crated by Visual Concepts, of Sidney, said Bennett.
“The signs will be reflective, so they will shine at night,” he said.
He said there are names on the signs of Shelby County residents who lost their lives in the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf Wars.
“Other people have done the research for this,” said Bennett. “I’m just using their work for the project.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.