Bridge dedication honors fallen service members

Blair County leaders honored nine fallen service members Wednesday by putting their names on a plaque next to the Juniata Eighth Street Bridge, now known as the Bridge of Freedom.

“It represents our county’s collective thank you to them, their families and friends,” Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said.

During a morning ceremony at the county’s bridge where significant repairs were finished a year ago, Tomassetti and fellow commissioners Diane Meling and Ted Beam Jr. read aloud the names of county residents who died during War on Terror initiatives of Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

They are: Sgt. Brandon Adams, 22, Hollidaysburg; Gunnery Sgt. Ronald E. Baum, 38, Hollidaysburg; Spec. Chad A. Edmundson, 20, Williamsburg; Sgt. Curtis Forshey, 22, Hollidaysburg; Spec. Michael A. Hook, 25, Altoona; Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham, 25, Altoona; Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Jenkins, 35, Altoona; Staff Sgt. Daniel R. Lightner, 28, Hollidaysburg, and Private 1st Class Larry Parks Jr., 24, Altoona.

“May this bridge be a tribute to their memory,” First Church of Christ Pastor John Collins said.

The bridge should be well cared for in honor of those who died, speaker Dennis Butts, a Vietnam War veteran, three-time Purple Heart recipient and All-American Hero award recipient, said.

“They didn’t build it or fund it – you did that,” Butts said. “But men like these you are honoring paid for the right for you to cross it.”

About 125 attended the event, which attracted mostly family members, friends and local leaders.

“This was very much appreciated,” said Cheryl Parks of Altoona, whose son, Larry, died June 18, 2007, in Iraq, where he and his tank crew were victims of a roadside bomb. “I think of him all the time.”

“I thought the ceremony was just wonderful,” said Roy Edmundson of Williamsburg, whose son, Chad, died May 27, 2009 in Iraq, also because of a roadside bomb. “I’m very honored that my son’s name is on the bridge.”

“I’m glad they did this for all the service men who died,” Chad’s mother, Karen Cornell of Everett, said.

Tammi Ingham of Juniata, who son’s Matthew died in Afghanistan on Jan. 11, 2010, said she liked the placement of the plaque, next to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway often used by those watching the trains passing below.

“I think people are going to see this and remember,” Ingham said. “It’s important to realize that lives have been lost.”

Butts asked for that kind of recognition by those using the bridge.

“I hope that after this ceremony today, every time you drive across this bridge, you remember who really paid for it and what a tremendous price it was for them and their families,” Butts said. “Each time you reach halfway across this bridge, just quietly say thank you for allowing me to do this.”