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State Route 226 designated a Gold Star Families Memorial Highway

State Representative Scott Wiggam (center) poses with Gold Star Families (from left) Richard and Pat Winkleman, Chris Runkle, and Darin Lewis. The Winklemans lost their son Damon in 2009 while he was serving in Zabul province, Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army. Runkle lost her son, John Runkle, in 2011 while he was serving in the U.S. Army. Runkle died of wounds he suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

A group of veterans, their family members, and supporters gathered on Saturday to dedicate a portion of State Route 226 to Gold Star Families.

State Representative Scott Wiggam looks on as Richard Winkleman speaks during the dedication ceremony of State Route 226 as Wayne County Gold Star Family Memorial Highway. Wiggam and Winkleman worked together to attain the designation.

State Representative Scott Wiggam speaks during the dedication ceremony on Saturday of State Route 226 as a Gold Star Family Memorial Highway.

When a member of the military dies as a result of active duty military service, their family members become recognized as Gold Star Families.

On Saturday, State Route 226 from Shreve to Centerville was designated as a Gold Star Memorial Highway dedicated to those that have paid the ultimate price while serving in the military and to recognize the sacrifice and ongoing suffering of the families left behind with only memories of their loved ones, according to a news release from Dan Starcher, public communications coordinator for the Wayne County government..

The impact of their loss is immeasurable, and the pain and emptiness never fade.

Richard “Wink” Winkleman and his wife Pat, who lost their son Damon in 2009 while serving as a medic in the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom, were instrumental in getting the portion of the highway named the Wayne County Gold Star Family Memorial Highway.

Richard, a retired Army Sergeant Major, recalled that fateful day he learned Damon was killed while en route to aid a unit pinned down in Zabul province, Afghanistan.

“It happened just like in the movies,” he said. “Army representatives came to our door and told us.”

Since then, the Winklemans and their sons Nate and Jason, both veterans, have worked tirelessly supporting veterans’ causes.

“This project took about six months from start to finish,” Richard continued. “Once we figured out who to contact and what to do, we just had to decide where to put the sign.”

One of the people he contacted was State Representative Scott Wiggam, a U.S. Air Force veteran.

“It was an incredible opportunity to be a part of this,” Wiggam said. “As a veteran who works with veterans, I see what they go through. This is one way to show our love and gratitude for these veterans’ families and lift them up. It is a time for us to put our arms around them and ensure they know we care.”

Wiggam said that military service shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“If you go out to the memorial at Wooster cemetery, there are 300 names of Wayne Countians that have died while serving our country, and the trajectory of those families has changed forever. We have community members who are risking their lives every day, and I want people to remember that.”

For Gold Star Families, the pain and suffering of losing a loved one is constant.

“It, really and truly, never goes away; it never goes away,” Richard said. “There are times when you don’t think about it as much, but most of the time, especially on days like today, it occupies everything.”

Two years after his son’s death, Richard learned that a cousin was killed while serving in the military.

“We had a total of 10 family members go off to fight the Global War on Terrorism, and two came back under a flag,” he recalled.

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