MARIETTA - While many area families celebrate this holiday weekend with cookouts and fireworks, two military families leaned on each other for support.
One of those families spent the weekend in Texas with their son, who was critically injured June 15 while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
The other family spent the weekend remembering the loss of their son, who was killed July 2, 2007, while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Photo by Brad Bauer
The Washington County Fairgrounds hosted a demolition derby Saturday and a mud bog Sunday leading up to Sunday night’s fireworks display in Marietta.
Both families are from the Reno/Newport area and both young men graduated from Frontier High School.
"We've been in contact with each other almost daily," said Jim Hall, whose nephew, Kyle Hockenberry, 19, was critically injured last month by a roadside bomb. "A few weeks ago we had a prayer vigil and they showed up and it meant so much for them to be there and offer their prayers and support ... We communicate all the time and we know how hard this weekend has been them."
At this time four years ago, members of 25-year-old Army 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford's family were notified he was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq.
"When I think of the Fourth of July, I think of all these young men like these who have made sacrifices so we can have barbecues and enjoy fireworks," Hall said.
Rutherford's parents, Gary and Penny, were not available for comment Sunday. The soldier's grandfather, Herman Thomas, 79, of Newport, said he sat along a river on Saturday to spend some quiet time thinking about Chris.
"I always put my flags out in the yard to remember Chris and all the others like him," he said. "In my opinion, I wish we could get out of that inferno place. God only knows how many more of our young people will have to be maimed, crippled or killed."
Thomas said he served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He said the Fourth of July has taken on a different meaning since the loss of his grandson.
"They're tied so close together it just makes the meaning a little more acute, I suppose," he said. "It's hard without Chris. We were very close. They lived right down the street when growing up and they were here all the time."
Thomas said Chris loved serving in the Army.
"He was eager to get the job done and it just didn't turn out that way and we've got to live with it," he said.
Hockenberry continues to be listed in critical, but stable condition at an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas. The soldier has lost both legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow. Most recently, he has been battling a severe infection, but appears to be making positive strides, his family said.
The soldier has not been able to speak because of a breathing tube, but has been able to communicate with the family.
"The surgeon met with Kyle and told him he would have him up and walking on prosthesis," the soldier's aunt, Stacy Hall said. "He just smiled and of course it was overwhelming for us ... It's still going to be a long road. We're probably talking about a year or two of physical therapy, but it's such a relief to know he will walk again."
Jim Hall said the support of the community for both soldiers has been remarkable.
Already, there's a street in Newport named after Rutherford, along with a fitness center at Frontier High School. Memorials for him have been placed at Fort Knox, Ky., and at a military base in Iraq.
The latest honor is a dedication expected later this year of a more-than-20-mile stretch of Ohio 7 as "First Lt. Christopher Rutherford Memorial Highway."
Support for Hockenberry has come in the form of prayers, vigils, fund raisers, social media pages and representation in local Fourth of July parades.
"It's all been very humbling," Hall said. "There are no words in any language to express how grateful we are for everything."
Devola resident Don Bules, 44, took his two children, Derek, 7, and Devin, 11, to the Washington County Fairgrounds on Sunday in Marietta for a mud bog competition and the annual fireworks display.
"It's easy to forget about the folks who made today possible, and I'm glad they usually take a moment to remind us before their events begin and they play the National Anthem," he said. "That's important."
U.S. Army veteran Vernon Bigney, 56, of Caldwell, was also at the event.
"To me, the Fourth of July is about cookouts and hanging out with family and friends," he said. "But you have to remember to think about those serving. I sure wouldn't want to be over in Iraq or Afghanistan right now."