Remembering fallen heroes

Messenger photo by Christine Bryant
Military personnel lay a paver in honor of Robert Ronald Buck at the Reynoldsburg High School Fallen Heroes Memorial Oct. 2. Buck was killed in Vietnam Feb. 23, 1968. He attended RHS from 1961 to 1965.
Messenger photo by Christine Bryant
Pavers were laid in honor of all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Messenger photo by Christine Bryant
Brenda Drake of Pataskala hugs family members following a service held at the Fallen Heroes Memorial in Reynoldsburg. Drake’s brother, David Earl Keister, was killed in Vietnam on Feb. 15, 1968. He attended RHS from 1966 to 1969.
David Keister

The family of fallen soldier David Earl Keister stood huddled, arms intertwined with one another, around a stone inscribed with his name.

David E. Keister
U.S. Army
KIA Feb. 15, 1968
Vietnam

It had been 40 years since learning of the death of their oldest brother, but no less sorrowful.

"It’s hard," said his sister, Brenda Drake of Pataskala, wiping tears away from her eyes.

A Reynoldsburg High School student from 1966 to 1969, Keister left high school his junior year to join the U.S. Army.

On Feb. 15, 1968, he was the point man in a platoon that encountered a heavily fortified enemy position during a reconnaissance operation east of Hoc Mon in the Republic of Vietnam.

Despite being wounded and pinned down, he continued to engage the enemy in fire that enabled the rest of his platoon to find cover.

"My brother held off the Vietnamese so the rest of his platoon could get away," said Donald Keister, of Reynoldsburg.

At age 19, David Keister died as a result of the wounds he sustained that day. He was awarded posthumously the Bronze Star for his act of heroism.

"He always wanted to be at the front of the action," Donald Keister remembered about his brother.

David Keister is one of three fallen soldiers who are being honored with a new memorial at Reynoldsburg High School. A service commemorating the completion of the first phase of The Fallen Heroes Memorial was held Oct. 2.

Special pavers in memory of the soldiers were laid as part of the ceremony, as well as pavers in honor of all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The ceremony was a first for the family.

"It’s the first time the family has been invited to a memorial service," Drake said. "It just wasn‚t popular at the time."

Pavers also were laid for Robert Ronald Buck, who was killed in action Feb. 23, 1969, in Vietnam, and Matthew Charles Mattingly, who was killed in action Sept. 13, 2006, in Iraq.

The idea for the memorial was inspired by the death of Mattingly and his friends‚ desire to honor him at Reynoldsburg High School, which he attended from 1992 to 1994.

The idea was presented to then principal Diane Mankins, who got Reynoldsburg High School teacher Thomie Timmons in touch with Brandon Hasson, a former student of his who had taken the lead in initiating the project.

"The idea just took off," Timmons said. "Brandon had done other memorial projects and as the idea developed, we settled on our current design."

The design includes a 9-foot bronze statue of a soldier in the likeness of Mattingly, which will stand in the center of a monument surrounded by a patio of pavers engraved with the names of the RHS graduates who have died while serving their country.

A masonry wall creates a seating ledge around where the statue will be placed, which creates a place for students to hang out and reflect.

"It’s fantastic you can pass this along to other students," Donald Keister said.

The soldier will wear fatigue bottoms and a letterman jacket and will carry a backpack. In his hand, he will carry a book and a folded flag. The soldier will face the school‚s flag pole to the west, signifying change and the passing of life, according to site plans.

Zanesville artist Alan Cotrill has agreed to create the bronze statue, and Hasson has designed the patio and other landscape features to complete the site.

"I think, as we presented the idea to many of the community leaders, they felt that this was just an emotional response to Matt’s death that would never get off the ground," Timmons said.

But with phase one of the project completed, the next step, phase two, includes the construction of the statue.

Organizers estimate it will cost between $35,000 to $40,000 to complete the project.

"Now that we have completed phase one and have approximately $15,000 toward phase two, we hope that those same community leaders will step up and help us raise the remainder of the funds that we need to complete this memorial," Timmons said.

Donald Keister said it’s amazing what the group of organizers has accomplished so far and their plans for the next phase. "Knowing 40 years after he was killed, at his high school, he’s still remembered," he said.

For more information on the project, go to rhsveteransmemorial.com.

Donations may be sent to RHS Fallen Veterans Memorial c/o Reynoldsburg High School, 6699 E. Livingston Ave. Reynoldsburg, OH 43068. Checks may be made out to Reynoldsburg High School.

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