By: Timothy Kays, THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Montpelier, Ohio, was the hometown of Sgt. Michael Paul Hodshire. Michael served as a Squad Leader with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, deployed to Iraq. His mother was Tarry (Eicher) Fikel, the proprietor of Eicher’s Subs in Downtown Montpelier. On October 30, 2005, Tarry got the news that no friend or family member of anyone serving abroad wants to hear…Michael was killed in action by Iraqi insurgents. Michael died of wounds that he sustained on October 29 from an improvised explosive device during combat operations near Nasser Wa Salaam, Iraq.
At that exact moment, Tarry Fikel became a Gold Star Mother, the mother of a serviceman or woman who fell in the global war on terror.
It has been fourteen years since her son paid the ultimate price for Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Tarry has not rested a day. She remains dedicated to the memory of her son, as well as every other person who donned an American military uniform and lost their lives in the ongoing war against terrorism. That’s the reason why she is bringing in the Tribute Towers of Remembering Our Fallen. Remembering Our Fallen is a traveling photographic war memorial that honors the fallen of the American military from the War on Terror. It’s been a daunting task, but Tarry is investing a lot of time and tears into the effort.
Tarry said, “How it got started was, I received a postcard in the mail from Patriotic Productions. They said that the Tribute Towers were going to be traveling to Comstock Park in Michigan. That was in 2017. I was really ready to go because we got my son’s picture there, but then when we got there, they had it outside. A storm came in and they had to shut down and put everything away. So I traveled a couple hours just to go and see them, and then find out it didn’t show.”
“I’m bringing them here to Williams County on the week of September 7-14, which is the Williams County Fair. They’re going to be at the Veterans Building inside the atrium. I brought them here because I traveled two and a half hours to go and see it, and then I got cancelled out. I have a lot of family and friends here in Montpelier and Williams County; I want them to come and see this. When I went to see them last year in the Mercer County Fair, I just stood there and covered up my mouth. I was just in awe of it. Even though I know that my son’s on there, I had feelings…I had a warm heart. I cried just seeing the men and women that have saved our lives for us to be free here where we are living.”
The experience of the Tribute Towers is reminiscent of that of the Vietnam War Memorial…highly emotional. “There was a lady there,” Tarry said, “…she was just looking, and she was crying. I put my hand on her shoulder, and I asked, ‘Do you have family here?’ She said, ‘No, but just seeing the portraits of these men and women that we’ve lost…’ It got to her. It was a patriotic way of saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be free.’ I went down a couple of towers, and right there was my son. He was looking right at me. It was meant to be to see him for the first time. He’s traveling with his buddies, you might say. So I’m bringing them here so that people can get the feeling that I had, and so they could also say ‘Thank you.'”
It’s one thing to be seeing all the faces of those that you do not know. Recalling the moment in which she first saw the portrait of Michael in his Marine dress blacks brought an onslaught of tears.
“I love you,” Tarry said in describing the dam burst of emotion. “I love you! I miss you so much! I wish you were here! I just want to say thank you…you’re my hero. I just can’t thank him enough. I put my hand on his portrait. I was with my daughter and my grandson at the time. We were just in our own little spot, just looking at his portrait. Then he had his buddies around that he also lost overseas. They were around his portrait, which was which was ironic, because they’re mixed up. They’re all mixed, all different branches of service around him, but the ones that are around him are the ones that are his buddies that were with him at the time. The next tower over was another one of group of buddies that he had. He lost a lot from his battalion…I’d say about 20, probably out of his battalion. He was in a Hummer, and they rolled over an IED…it was on his side.”
“Okay,” Tarry continued, “…so why am I doing this? To remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives for us to be free to do what we want to do, and to enjoy our life here in our hometown. By bringing the Tribute Towers here to my hometown is to honor and remember those who sacrificed their lives for us to be free, to see our loved ones and to remember them.”
“Yes, it brings tears to my eyes,” she added, “…and some comfort. When I talk about my son and also when I talk about the men and women that we have lost in the War on Terror, we honor those who sacrificed their lives for us and remember them by coming to the Tribute Towers. They’ll be coming here on September 7, and they’re going to be escorted into Montpelier on September 6. We’re looking at five o’clock, but that might change. We’re trying to ask people to line up along the street if they can, with flags and posters saying, ‘We remember. Thank you. Remember.’ Things like that…that would be really nice to see.”
Tarry is always ready and willing to talk about her son, and the path that he willingly chose. “Michael graduated from North Adams in 1999. The next day he went into training, and then he graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, and was stationed at Camp Pendleton School of Infantry for 37 days. My son’s nickname was ‘The Motivator’, because he was an aggressive leader. He embodied the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment, and inspired his Marines to uphold the highest of his standards. We have the Patriot Hills Golf Course outside of town here towards West Unity. They have a stone out there that says ‘Motivator’.”
“My son served as a squad leader of the Easy Company task force of the 2nd Battalion,” Tarry continued. “His battalion was conducting a vehicle convoy into the Easy Company area of responsibility in Zaidon, Iraq. As the Battalion was traveling down the dirt road, an IED detonated under the first vehicle where my son was seated. The shrapnel penetrated the bottom of the armor, and immediately impacted my son. There was nothing that they could do to save his life; he was gone so quickly. My son died October 30, 2005, in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Mike was the third generation of my family to die in war. He was buried on the 230th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. Mike was the 65th member of the U.S. Armed Forces, with known Michigan ties to die in Iraq.”
The concept of bringing the Tribute Towers to the Williams County Fair is neither inexpensive, nor is it simple. There is a five-figure expenditure involved in this undertaking, which is going to call for fundraising…a LOT of fundraising. This is an arena in which Tarry has never been. She is an Eicher. You want to talk pizzas and subs, and Tarry has got you covered from every conceivable angle. Fundraising though…that’s an entirely different animal, and she is stunned by the requirements of it all. Still though, if you think that the lady who conceived and created the largest pizza ever made in Williams County would ever back down from a challenge like fundraising on a large scale to bring in the Tribute Towers, you need to take another look at who is answering the bell. Yes, Tarry is an Eicher, but she’s also a Gold Star Mother. Her son is on one of those tapestries. The Motivator is still living up to his namesake.
“This is my first time doing this,” Tarry said; “I’ve never done anything like this. Never in my entire life have I done anything like this. This is huge for me…but I’m doing it. I just want to make sure I have my son’s back, because the last time he left here and never came back home, he said, ‘Mom, don’t worry about me. My boys got my back, and I got theirs. And now I can tell my son, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got your back and I’ve got your boys’ back, and you’re going to be proud. You’re going to be proud of me, Mike.’ So, this is what keeps me striving to make it as big as possible…for our men and women.”
While fundraising is already underway, there will be a major community fundraising event on Saturday, June 29 from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Williams County Veterans Memorial Building. That event will feature a benefit lunch featuring an American summer fare of food and fun. There will be live music, a poker run, and a silent auction. Donations are being accepted for the silent auction, as well as for the food for the event. To arrange a donation, please call Tarry at 419-485-1678. Financial donations to go toward the expenses for the Tribute Tower transportation and staffing are always welcome, of course. Monetary donations can be mailed to the Williams County Veterans Service Office at 1425 East High Street in Bryan, and Tarry would be happy to answer any questions that you might have at the number above.
Tarry has hit the ground running with this project to honor those who have fallen in the War on Terror, but she’s not planning on stopping there. The fire is burning, and she’s got more than a few irons in it. “There’s other things in the future that I’m wanting to do for our town,” she said. “There’s Wreaths Across America. Hopefully I get in doing that. I’ve got a lot on my shoulders here…a lot to do here! I got my food trailer going, I got the restaurant and Lord, I’ve got this. I want to do the tapestries that hang from the light posts, like they have in West Unity and Bryan; I’d like to get that started. Hopefully I could get started by September before the Tribute Towers come in. I hope I can do it all, but we’ll see. We’ll see.”
Word to the wise…don’t bet against this Gold Star Mother.
Timothy can be reached at email@example.com
© 2019, Tim Kays. All rights reserved.