It has been a little more than a decade, but it’s a sacrifice Kim and Angie Barbret can never forget.
Their 22-year-old son, Mark, a U.S. Army private, died when a Humvee he was in hit a roadside bomb in Iraq.
His sacrifice — and those of other soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan — is one the Shelby Township couple doesn’t want anyone to forget.
So when the pair discovered sometime around Memorial Day last year that their son’s name was covered over on a large veterans memorial at the township building — where it had appeared for about eight years — and placed on a smaller, nearby memorial for those killed in the “Global War on Terror,” they were stunned.
“It really upset us,” Kim Barbret said, saying the smaller memorial “was not as important looking as the main wall. … They’re not honored equally.”
Organizers say the wall, erected in 2000, wasn’t designed to hold the additional names from the more recent wars and as more soldiers died, they decided to erect a separate monument. The “Heart of America” memorial lists six soldiers from Shelby Township who died as a result of the war on terrorism.
In response to concerns about the names being covered on the wall, township Supervisor Richard Stathakis recently said the “Heart of America” memorial is to be raised and moved to the end of the larger memorial next to the names of those killed in the Vietnam War.
It is to be lit, so it can be seen as it stands next to the longer, wall-type memorial, which bears the names of 19 township residents killed during World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“We need to identify these soldiers on equal stature with the other ones,” said Joe Wrobel, commander of the township’s Old Settlers VFW Post 4659. “It’s a compromise I think will work. The bottom line is they have to right the wrong that they did.”
He said the post would rededicate the “Heart of America” memorial in the spring and even raise money to pay for the costs associated with the move.
Barbret said the situation will be better, but he’s still disappointed.
“They think it’s the best resolution. I think the best resolution would be to add the names to the wall,” he said.
Consternation about the appropriate way of honoring township soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan isn’t new to the community.
Politicians and veterans initially struggled with the appropriate heading over Barbret’s name on the large memorial after his death in 2004. His name and two others were added to the large granite memorial, out of chronological order, in space between World War II and the Korean War under the heading of Iraq. But later, two other soldiers from the township were killed in Afghanistan.
Phil Randazzo, a decorated combat veteran from the Vietnam War and the township’s veterans events coordinator, said there was no more room on the large memorial.
The names from the recent conflicts were etched into the Heart of America” memorial, which was designed by Randazzo’s wife and is a smaller replica of the county-wide memorial in front of the Macomb County administration building in Mt. Clemens.
“It never left that memorial site,” Randazzo said of Barbret’s name. “It wasn’t taken off. It was upgraded to where it’s supposed to be. The name was never out of sight. I would never allow that.”
But Kim Barbret and Wrobel said the move was made without discussion with the soldiers’ families.
Randazzo said the new monument will be moved and a special base, costing about $3,500, is on order. There also will be an area that lists the theaters of operation, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the space could hold at least 15 different theaters.
When completed, Randazzo said, “it’ll be gorgeous.”
Randazzo said he thought of moving it closer to the larger wall on the side where World War I casualties are listed so it can be seen better during ceremonies at the site. But during a recent township meeting, Stathakis said the suggestion from Wrobel was to move the memorial next to where it says Vietnam War on the larger memorial. That way, the names of the fallen are displayed in chronological order of the wars.
Wrobel said the VFW post had its own memorial created for those killed during the war on terrorism. It erected that memorial next to another memorial for veterans of prior wars, making it the same height and as close as possible in appearance to the other monument.
“One soldier’s death is no better than another,” Wrobel said. “They all deserve the same respect.”
“It will make it better,” he said the proposed move. “They’re approaching equal. That’s our biggest complaint.”
By Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press