By Andrea Cordle, Southwest Editor
It takes a special kind of person to volunteer to leave behind family and everyday luxuries to go overseas and fight in the Middle East.
The War on Terror began a decade ago. In that time, Grove City has lost two service members.
Lance Cpl. Eric Bernholtz and Master Sgt. Shawn Hannon were alike in many ways. They had a rigid sense of right and wrong. They loved their families and friends. They loved a challenge. They cared about other people and stood up to injustice.
Lance Cpl. Eric J. Bernholtz
Operation Iraqi Freedom
October 27, 1981 – August 3, 2005
Eric and his brother Adam had a pact. They would both spend their lives living near one another in Grove City. They would raise their families in the place they called home. It was not to be.
Jim Bernholtz said, despite being 22 months younger, Eric watched over his brother. Adam was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and as a result, was deaf.
“Eric and his brother were very close, said Bernholtz.He always felt like the protector.
Eric learned sign language while learning English. Bernholtz said he was so good at signing, people often thought he, too, was deaf.
Eric graduated from Grove City High School in 2000. He coached younger kids in basketball through the Grove City Church of the Nazarene.
“He loved coaching kids; loved being around kids, said Bernholtz.
Bernholtz said the neighborhood kids would come to the door to see if Eric couldcome out to play, even though he was older. Eric always made time for children.
Even as a teenager, Eric knew what was important. When he was 18, Eric worked at Fed Ex. He saved up enough money to buy a new pick-up truck. Right after he got it,
Bernholtz said he came home and saw scratches all over the truck.
“Eric said, ‘its just a truck, said Bernholtz.
Eric once had his wallet stolen. When he told his parents, they asked if he reported it to the police.
“Eric told us that whoever stole it, needed the money more than he did, said Bernholtz.
The Marine would not tolerate injustice. He would stand up for those being bullied in school. It was the injustice of the September 11th attacks that inspired Eric to join the military.
“He told me he was going over there to eradicate evil, said Bernholtz.
The father said the military was one of the best things to happen to his son. After years of searching for his path in life, he found his niche.
Eric wanted to serve his country and fight for those who could not defend themselves. When he returned, he wanted to pursue a career as a firefighter. He was planning to get married and wanted a big family.
Bernholtz and his wife, Cathy, spoke to Eric a few weeks before he was killed. He was scheduled to come home in October 2005, before his 24th birthday.
According to the United States Department of Defense, Eric was killed near Haditha, Iraq when an improvised explosive device attacked his assault vehicle. He was a member of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, and 4th Marine Division.
Bernholtz said his son left a lasting legacy. Thousands of friends and community members attended Erics service. Bernholtz said it lasted more than eight hours.
When a Marines body is brought back home, other Marines are supposed to stand by the fallen soldier until the service. Bernholtz said at that time, Marines were spread thin and they were unable to assign anyone to stand with Erics casket. A group of Erics friends volunteered to do it. They took shifts so someone was with his body for several days before his funeral service.
“He believed in family, community and making a difference, said Bernholtz.He cherished his friendships and relationships. I hope people will cherish their time with their sons and daughters.
Master Sgt. Shawn Thomas Hannon
Operation Enduring Freedom
March 3, 1968 – April 4, 2012
Diana Forresters family gathers every Tuesday at her Grove City home for dinner. They eat, catch up with one another and remember the one who is not there – Forresters son Shawn Hannon.
Forrester said, growing up, Shawn was a fun, adventurous kid. She reminisced about the time she lost Shawn when he was in elementary school. He was supposed to come home from school, but he did not. After what seemed like hours of frantic searching, she found him at the old IGA grocery store on Haughn Road.
“He said it was such a nice day, he thought hed walk home from school, said Forrester.
Shawn was the oldest of four children. He was a typical big brother, taking care of his younger brothers Scott and Quinn and sometimes picking on his youngest sister, Erin Chaffin. He once tied her to a tree in their front yard.
Shawn played T-ball and soccer. After graduating from Grove City High School in 1986, Shawn went on to play soccer at Bowling Green State University. He majored in political science and eventually went to Capital University Law School to earn a juris doctorate degree.
Outside of the military, he worked as chief legal officer for the Ohio Department of Veteran Services. He also worked as a criminal defense attorney with the firm Yavitch and Palmer.
Shawn was hanging out with friends at Planks, when he met his future wife Jamie Hannon. They were introduced through a mutual friend.
“I thought he was dreamy, said Hannon.
They dated for two years before marrying in January 2004. They had a son, Evan, who is now 10 months old. Shawn was serving in the military at the time, but he was home for his sons big debut.
Forrester said Shawn joined the Army in 1988. Many members of his family served in the military, including his two brothers.
“It meant everything to him, said Forrester.
After the Army, Shawn joined the National Guard. He was serving in the National Guard on Sept. 11, 2001.
“He was just enraged by 9-11, said Forrester.
Chaffin said,He was big about justice; about making things right.
Shawn served his country for nearly 20 years. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic service, a Purple Heart and the Ohio Distinguished Service Medal.
According to the United States Department of Defense, Shawn was killed in Faryab province, Afghanistan during an enemy attack by a suicide vehicle with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, and 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“He was such a good, fun guy, said Forrester.We are going to miss him.
Hannon said her husband was the type of man who would do anything for anyone. He loved his country and loved his family.
Hannon said if Shawn could give Evan a message as he grows up, he would say,You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.