By Linda Dillman
Veterans John and Marshell Crabtree are spending their summer visiting the final resting places of Explosive Ordinance Disposal—the disarming and disposal of bombs—military members and recognizing their service and sacrifice by placing a memorial flag on their gravesite.
The Canal Winchester residents are participating in the EOD Warrior Foundation’s Flag Program, which is a memorial to honor and remember all deceased EOD technicians regardless of their years of service or cause of death.
“We chose six names from Ohio and placed the first flag in June,” said John. “We’re waiting on flags for the remaining five graves and that will be done later this year. We chose graves within 100 miles of our home. We wanted to do this just to know who these folks were and going from point A to point B to visit their resting place.”
The goal of the program is to have a flag placed on every EOD grave throughout the summer. There are currently over 900 names/gravesites identified by the organization throughout the world—from Europe to the Philippines—in all branches of the military.
The Crabtrees’ first trip took them to Beaver, Ohio, and the gravesite of SPC Justin Helton, who was 26 when he was killed in Gaza Village in Afghanistan in June 2014 from wounds suffered while engaged in a combat operation.
“What we’re doing affected me personally,” said Marshell. “John was injured, but he survived. Over the years, through the Warrior Foundation, I’ve met so many who lost their loved ones. I want people to know what EOD does.”
Before the couple placed the flag on Helton’s grave, they discovered his parents lived next door to the graveyard. Marshell said she and John wanted the Heltons to know why they were there, so she placed a note in a bag and left it on their doorstep.
A couple of days later, they got a call from the Heltons and an email from a member of the local Beaver VFW post.
“I receive a quarterly newsletter from the EOD Warrior Foundation, and that is how I learned of the (flag) program,” said John, who was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) and lost his sight in 2006 while serving in the Navy as an EOD technician. He joined the service in 1988 and retired in 2008.
Marshell was a public information specialist in the Navy, where she served from 1987 until retiring 20 years later in 2007.
Volunteers like the Crabtrees sign up with the foundation to place flags on graves and then access an EOD virtual cemetery list. They are later sent flag kits with installation instructions and information.
The couple will also place flags on the Ohio graves of World War II EOD veterans Sgt. William Henderson and William Corder; Richard McGlaun, who was born in 1935 and passed away in 2017; SFC Charles Shrider who was killed while on duty at Fort Bragg on Oct. 1, 1951, and Lancaster native Sgt. Joseph Collette, who was age 29 when he was killed in 2019 in Afghanistan.
According to the EOD Warrior Project, the military profession is one of the most dangerous occupations in the military. On average, there are over 6,000 men and women serving as EOD technicians.
In current conflicts, IED bombs are responsible for the majority of fatalities and severe injuries to troops in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
When EOD technicians are wounded, they sustain some of the most severe and often life-changing injuries including loss of limbs, burns, paralysis, blindness and traumatic brain injury, along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Recovery and rehabilitation from these injuries can be extensive and require months and sometimes years of inpatient and outpatient care. For the families of fallen EOD warriors, surviving family members face many changes and challenges in their lives as they grieve the loss of a loved one.