Wall of Honor adds Plano marine
When the Wall of Honor was dedicated at the Veteran's Memorial Park in McKinney in November, it contained the names of 345 service members from Collin County who were killed while serving their country.
Recently, two more names were approved by the McKinney Armed Services Memorial Board for inclusion on the wall. One of the two men is Staff Sgt. Gary J. Lester, 25-year old Plano native and U.S. Marine who was killed off the coast of Denmark during a NATO exercise in 1982. While Lester's body was never recovered, a marker stands at Arlington National Cemetery honoring Lester, as well as the other four men killed in the crash.
Rainey's inclusion proves the wall is still a work in progress, said RD Foster, a Vietnam veteran who came up with the idea for the wall in 2005 when he wanted a permanent way to remember his best friend, Charles "Bill" Bryan, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism after being killed in Vietnam in 1968.
"In our research for the wall, we researched hard in the war years, but the peacetime years have taken a slow pace to get through those," Foster said, adding that three more names, all of which are from Plano, are set to be voted on for inclusion in the near future. "We are gradually finding the ones that died during peacetime."
When Lester's daughter, Amber Rainey, heard about the wall, she submitted her father's name for inclusion.
"I was searching for memorials because outside of his marker in Arlington, he didn't have his name on any memorials," said Rainey, who lives in Plano with her family. "It means a lot to me that he is being recognized for serving and dying for his country, even though it was not in a war. I have a young son who is only 20 months old. I want to be able to take him somewhere and show him that his grandfather risked his life for his country and what he believed in."
Lester was part of Northern Wedding, a Cold War NATO exercise conducted every four years to practice rearming and resupplying Europe. Rainey was only 5 years old when her father was killed, but said she was able to get in contact with a shipmate of her father's who provided her with information and pictures from the mission. From that contact, Rainey learned that even though her father died in peacetime, his sacrifice likely saved the lives of hundreds of his fellow sailors and Marines.
"He was able to tell me what the malfunction in the helicopter was that caused it to crash," she said. "He said because of this crash, they found out that all of the helicopters were affected and instituted a new policy of maintenance and inspections. He said one helicopter had only a few hours left of their mission, but the mechanic insisted they be inspected and he found that if they had gone back out, they would have crashed within 30 minutes. It made me feel good to hear that."
Lester, as well as U.S. Navy Seaman Ernest A. Highsaw will officially be added to the wall on Nov. 10, 2012. Highsaw, a native of the small Collin County community of Culleoka, died from complications following surgery for appendicitis aboard the U.S.S. Raleigh in the Bering Sea in July 1929. Highsaw, 21, is buried at Princeton Cemetery.
For a complete listing of the names included on the wall, visit www.ccfreedomfighters.com. To nominate someone for inclusion on the wall, contact RD Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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