Tears rolled down Sonny Zimmerman’s mother’s face as she placed a rose at the base of the Afghanistani and Iraqi War Memorial as Zimmerman’s parents revealed his name etched on the marble facing.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sonny Zimmerman, 25, died Tuesday, July 16, in Mushaka, Afghanistan, of wounds he suffered when his vehicle was attacked by a rocket propelled grenade.
On Wednesday, the anniversary of 9/11, area residents and veterans honored the soldier as his name was revealed on a memorial at Wapakoneta’s Veterans Memorial Park — the third Auglaize County soldier to lose his life in the war on terror.
“I am very proud of my son, I am very proud of everything he accomplished, I am very proud of how he matured into a man and I am damn proud of how he matured and became the leader that he was,” his father, Chris Zimmerman, said. “It was very nice and comforting to see that acknowledged so honorably by the local community and the local veterans groups, who also understand what it meant.
“I think it was truly a wonderful thing and it honors us that they honor our son,” he said.
His grandfather, Ron Zimmerman, said he felt it was appropriate to honor his grandson on Sept. 11 since the events of 9/11 struck a strong cord with the fallen soldier.
“This is special,” Ron Zimmerman said on behalf of his wife, Loretta, himself and other members of Sonny Zimmerman’s family. “Sonny meant the world to us. We had nine grandchildren and Sonny was the middle grandchild. Every since 9/11, Sonny wanted to help in some way.
“He graduated in 2005 and he was gone and went to serve in the Army — it was the only way he knew how to help,” he said. “It is sad. We never wanted to lose him, but the community continues to come forth and to help make it a little bit better.”
During the ceremony, four soldiers planted Zimmerman’s gun into the ground in front of the memorial, placed his shoes at the base of the gun and hung his helmet with its field glasses on the top. The last of the four soldiers draped Zimmerman’s dog tags on the gun.
Zimmerman also received a 21-gun salute after the playing of taps.
The four soldiers then escorted Zimmerman’s father, of Waynesfield, and his mother, Michelle Fischbach, of Fort Jennings, to the memorial where they placed a rose and cut a covering off to reveal his name. A warm breeze snapped the small flags surrounding the memorial to attention.
Sonny Zimmerman’s wife, Morgan, could not be present as she was participating in similar ceremonies at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Zimmerman was based as he served with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. The unit is better known as the Band of Brothers.
The Wapakoneta ceremony, organized by Freedoms Colors and Ralph Reynolds, involved the local Color Guard and four members and two Humvees of the St. Marys Armory.
Reynolds offered remarks on this Patriots Day and to honor Zimmerman and the other men and women who serve and who lost their lives defending this country and their countrymen.
“Twelve years have past since a perfect blue sky morning turned into the blackest of nights,” Reynolds said. “We will never forget the human cost paid by this generation. More than 6,700 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were lost in the line of duty. We will always remember they paid the ultimate sacrifice for America.
“No memorial, no ceremony, no words will ever fill the void left in our hearts for their loss,” he said. “My prayer to you today is when you think of our lost servicemen and women is that it brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.”
Reynolds then referred to Zimmerman paying the ultimate price for this country during his fourth tour of duty with his unit, a unit “whom he believed in and whom he considered brothers.”
“Today we are here to pay our respects and honor Staff Sgt. Sonny Zimmerman, to let the family and friends of Staff Sgt. Sonny Zimmerman know that we will be here for them — we feel your pain and we feel your pride as well,” Reynolds said.
The four soldiers took roll call calling their names including Zimmerman’s. They called out his name three times to the sound of silence.
During his third tour of duty, Sonny was injured in a June 3 attack, along with 15 other people. Ten school children and two other G.I.s were also killed in the attack. Sonny suffered injuries to his arm and back and had shrapnel in his leg.
Zimmerman returned for a fourth tour of duty “because he had a job to do,” his father said.
Zimmerman is the third Auglaize County resident to die in combat in the war on terror.
Army Specialist Jon Michael Schoolcraft III, of Wapakoneta, died on Jan 19, 2008, from wounds suffered when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Naseman, of New Bremen, died May 22, 2009, from injuries in a non-combat incident.
Zimmerman died this July and now everyone who looks at the memorial will know his sacrifice.