Cynthia Hooker, the mother of fallen soldier Jon Michael Schoolcraft III, recalled one of the last communications she had with her son prior to his death Jan. 18 in Taji, Iraq.
“One of the last texts to me was, ‘Mom, if something happens, just don’t ever forget me,’” Hooker said with tears falling down her face.
Pride in her son’s sacrifice mixed with the conflicting pain of losing a child as she spoke. It was obvious he would never be forgotten.
The soldier’s last words to his mother will ring true for other residents of Wapakoneta for generations to come, as Schoolcraft was honored for all-time with a memorial dedicated in his honor, along with all other veterans who have gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. The memorial was unveiled Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Park.
“It’s a beautiful tribute to an honorable man,” Hooker said. “He was such a good guy and he was my little peacekeeper. And that is how he died, as a peacekeeper.”
Schoolcraft also is the son of Jon Schoolcraft and is survived by a wife, Amber Leigh Schoolcraft.
Schoolcraft was born Dec. 27, 1981, and entered active service in June of 2001. Upon completion of training in Fort Benning, Ga., he was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, in Germany. In June of 2005, he was assigned to the 1st Batallion of the 27th Infantry, in Hawaii. He died from injuries suffered after his vehicle struck an explosive device. Army officials said Schoolcraft was surrounded by other soldiers when he died and was the only casualty of the incident. He was buried in Buckland on Feb. 2, 2008.
Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz, in giving the welcoming statement for the dedication, said everyone needed to remember the sacrifice of brave men, like Schoolcraft.
“Remember who we owe our freedom to,” Metz said.
Wapakoneta V.F.W. Post Commander Ralph Reynolds was taken aback by the memorial as he addressed the crowd during the ceremony.
“When the storm came through here recently, my first thought was my family,” Reynolds said. “My second thought was the memorial.
“We came out here and found the wind had knocked it down,” he said. “It had a few knicks and scrapes. Someone said if an American soldier can get knocked down and get right back up, so can we. The community will never forget the sacrifice he made Jan. 18, 2008.”
World War II veteran Lew Swanbeck laid the memorial wreath at the memorial site at the entrance to the park during the ceremony, while the Alpha Company of the St. Marys National Guard set up the assembled field cross.
Schoolcraft’s widow, Amber, said her husband would have felt very honored by the large turnout at the ceremony.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “He would have been honored, especially with all of the other veterans here. I am so happy Ralph put this together. He would have been honored by this.”
Schoolcraft’s mother said the memorial helps some to ease the pain.
“My heart just broke,” Hooker said after learning of her son’s death. “It helps ease the pain a little bit, knowing this will be here forever, long after I am gone. People will remember what he did for the country he loved so much.”