BELMONT-"I don't get many days like this," Ron Ault, Belmont resident, remarks. "It warms my heart to see everyone-friends, family-here to honor Jesse and his service and to honor others like him."
"Jesse" is Staff Sergeant Jesse Ault who lost his life one month before the end of his second and final tour of duty in Iraq. It was April 9, 2008, and Jesse had called Ron to wish him a happy birthday.
Tuesday, on the five year anniversary of his sacrifice and on Ron's 60th birthday, nearly 100 people gathered at the eastbound on-ramp at I-70's exit 208 for a ceremony naming five miles of interstate, to exit 213, the "Staff Sergeant Jesse Ault Memorial Highway."
The sign project began 15 months ago when Ron's brother, Tim, saw a similar sign along I-480 and made some inquiries. The Ohio Department of Transportation referred him to State Rep. Al Landis (R-Dover,) who added Jesse's information, now Section 5533.301, to House Bill 325 of the 129th General Assembly. When HB325 came up for vote, the Aults were invited to attend.
"They read out each section of the bill for memorial roadways. There were 53 sections, and each was a story of a fallen soldier or police officer or firefighter," says Tim. Family representatives were asked to stand for their section, and Tim and Ron say that the whole assembly clapped acknowledging the service and the families.
"It was very touching to stand there while people clapped. It made you feel like it was okay and to be proud," Tim adds. "Sometimes you don't know how to feel."
Gov. John Kasich signed the bill on Dec. 20, 2012. Tim notes that Rep. Landis' office "couldn't have been more helpful."
On Tuesday, under blue skies, members of the family, the American Legion color guard, the Patriot Riders, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Belmont County Sheriff's Department, Belmont County Commissioners Ginny Favede and Matt Coffland and representatives from the Governor's Office, Sen. Sherrod Brown's office, Congressman Bill Johnson's office, Sen. Rob Portman's office and ODOT watched the unveiling. The sign was covered with the flag that brought Jesse home. Ron and Debbie Ault then presented the flag to Dave Shaffer of ODOT District 11, a family friend who helped arrange the eastbound and westbound sign installations.
"As a mother of a son, I hope he grows up to be a good man," Commissioner Favede comments. "Jesse was a good man--not only a good man, but a good son, a good husband and a good father." Jesse had finished his military duty, but his wife received orders for Iraq. Jesse took her orders and returned to Iraq, so she could stay with their children.
"This was a very nice ceremony," Commissioner Coffland says. "This is a lasting way to honor all the men and women in the military, not only the fallen, but all who serve."
According to Tim and Ron, that is exactly the family's hope: that the signs will not only honor Jesse, but memorialize the efforts and the sacrifices of other fallen and active servicemen and their families. The Aults presented plaques to the Commissioners and to the state representatives attending a reception after the memorial in appreciation for their support.
Ron and his son-in-law, Dave Phillips, already have plans well underway for the annual Jesse Ault Memorial Golf Scramble at the Crooked Creek Golf Course, which will be held Saturday, June 1. That popular event raises money for scholarships to two high school students, one at Jesse's alma mater in Tyler, West Virginia, and the other at Union Local.
Friends and family are proud as they remember their good-natured, fun-loving Jesse.
"He was a great kid," says Ron. "We never wrote to each other. We always spoke on the phone. We never said goodbye. It was always, 'see you later,' and someday we'll do that."
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.