- Message left on William and Kay Etterling's
answering machine following the death of Lance Cpl. Jonathan Etterling.
The pictures and mementos of their son that dominate his old bedroom are pleasant memories for William and Kay Etterling.
His voice and others calling in support are still on their answering machine today, one year after 22-year-old Wheelersburg Marine Jonathan Etterling died in a helicopter crash near Rutbah, Iraq.
Since that day, the Etterlings say they have had good days and bad days.
Jonathan was one of 30 Marines killed when the C-53E helicopter crashed. Four other Ohio Marines also were killed in the crash, which government officials said was the result of a sandstorm.
“It's been like a roller coaster ride of ups and downs emotionally,” said William Etterling. “We've had a tremendous amount of attention from the community, which is good, very positive attention.”
The family was invited to parades and events throughout Memorial Day weekend and were in the Wheelersburg and Portsmouth parades.
Some of Jonathan Etterling's Marine buddies were home on leave during that weekend and escorted his mother, Kay, and sister, Angie, in the Portsmouth parade.
Jonathan's name was added to the memorial at Tracy Park.
“It was a very moving experience,” William Etterling said.
They also attended a statehouse meeting where Gov. Bob Taft presented them with a flag that had flown over the statehouse.
The Kiwanis set up a scholarship.
“We had been trying to decide how to set up a scholarship in Jon's name,” William Etterling said. “The Kiwanis had already set one up. They had me come over to the school this past spring and give it out.”
The Kiwanis Club has a matching fund where the donations received are matched by the organization. The Etterlings also set up educational accounts for their three granddaughters.
“One of Jon's wishes was that we set up education accounts for his three nieces,” William Etterling said. “He loved them very much.”
When Jonathan was in Okinawa, before going to Iraq, he told his parents that is what he wanted to do. In July, he was inducted into the Wheelersburg High School Hall of Fame.
The Wheelersburg School Board retired Jonathan's No. 56 football jersey at a special ceremony before the homecoming game in October.
The Ohio News Network came down to film at the school after his jersey was retired. The high school also had a food drive in Jonathan's name.
A man walked up the sidewalk one day and wanted to put up a 20-foot flagpole in their front yard.
“Wow, he had it up in no time,” William Etterling said. “God has worked through people to touch us, and help us and let us know that Jon's life mattered.”
Marine moms have been sending little angels and butterfly figures and gifts.
“They are coming from all over the country,” William Etterling said. “Just about every state in the union.”
Kay Etterling said that she can only display a few of them at a time because she has so many.
“We've even had phone calls from all across the United States,” Kay Etterling said. “We got a letter from a mother of a Naval officer. She said that she had put all the boys on the helicopter when they left.
“She said that her daughter had hugged and kissed every one of them goodbye. They were laughing and joking and cutting up. She wanted us to know that they were all hugged and kissed before they left.”
When they went through his personal possessions, they found many things they didn't know about.
“We have papers where he had painted schools in Iraq and Thailand,” Kay Etterling said.
They found letters from people thanking him for coming to the schools and speaking to the children. He taught the children American games and spent time with them.
He was in Thailand for three months of training their troops.
Mother's Day was especially difficult for the family, William Etterling said.
“We did have a high point when Jon's friend and fellow Marine, James Howard, came home,” he said.
Howard was wounded and decorated with two purple hearts by Vice President Dick Cheney at Camp Lejune in October.
One family - Don and Zona Simpson - that helped them through this past year also lost their only son several years ago in an industrial accident. The Etterlings rented a house from them when their children were born.
“They've been like adopted parents to us,” William Etterling said. “We draw a lot of strength from the fact that we've watched the quiet dignity in which they've lived their lives. Their strength has been a help to us.”
Jonathan's church, Bloom Freewill Baptist, put up a large banner in front of the church with his picture along with three other Marines - Josh Huddleston, Howard and Matt Crabtree - and one Army soldier - Ricky Newman.
Jonathan's fellow Marines sent the family an American flag with notes from everyone.
“We've just been blown away with the kindness of everyone,” William Etterling said.
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.