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Local Group Continues Efforts To Honor Missourians Killed In Iraq And Afghanistan

A little St. Louis nonprofit continues to plug away at its goal of creating a memorial to about 150 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen from Missouri who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Missouri Military Memorial Foundation plans to eventually erect a monument with the names and pictures of the fallen at Jefferson Barracks Park in St. Louis County, says Jennifer Jerome who manages social media and the website for the group.

In September, after four years of grassroots fundraising -- trivia nights, golf tournaments and 5K runs -- the foundation dedicated a pavilion and held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site. The group needs to raise an estimated $200,000 more to complete the memorial, Jerome said.

Completing the first phase was uplifting to the group’s members because they now have something tangible to show for their hard work, she noted. It’s also a sign of their determination.

“We’re going to get this finished,’’ Jerome said. “We wanted people to see how serious we are.’’

The ceremony was an emotional event for the group’s members, she said. Many have lost loved ones in the wars.

Credit Missouri Military Memorial Foundation
The Missouri Military Memorial Foundation pavilion was dedicated in September at Jefferson Barracks Park in St. Louis County.

Jerome’s cousin Army Sgt. Amanda Pinson of Lemay died in Iraq in 2006. She was the first female soldier from Missouri to be killed in action in Iraq.

Pinson's family has been the driving force behind the monument that would honor all Missourians who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Desert Storm. The group is headed by Chris Andrews, Pinson’s mother.

Jerome said that Pinson would have wanted her family to remember all who sacrificed their lives.

“She’d always say, ‘It’s not about you’ -- and we knew we had to take it further. Because that’s exactly what she would have done,’’ Jerome said.

On Dec. 28, the U.S. formally ended its 13-year combat mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The war began with the invasion of Afghanistan shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The U.S. combat mission in Iraq formally ended in December 2011. As of Dec. 30, 2,216 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan and 4,478 in Iraq.

The war is never over for the families of the casualties,  Jerome said.

“It’s never done. It will always be a part of each of us,’’ she said. “Their stories need to be told.”

The group will hold its annual trivia nighton Jan. 17 – a unique fundraiser that dedicates each round to one of the fallen.

“We use every opportunity to put their names out there,’’ Jerome said.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.