By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
Gary Strader may be from Indiana, but he has fond memories of Daddy's Creek in Cumberland County, Tennessee where he fished, hiked and spent time with his son, Morgan.
"He used to love to fish in that creek," Gary Strader said.
Daddy's Creek will always have a special place in his heart and will honor his son's memory now as a bridge spanning the creek on Hwy. 70 E. was recently named for his son, Sgt. Morgan W. Strader, a United States Marine from Crossville who was killed in action in Fallujah in 2004.
"It's so apropos that this bridge is over Daddy's Creek. Of all the creeks and rivers that could have a bridge named for him, this is the one that would have made Morgan the happiest," Strader said.
The bridge naming ceremony and sign unveiling took place Tuesday, at the bridge near Crab Orchard.
Dozens braved the blazing heat, bright sun and soaring temperatures to pay tribute to a young man who was labeled by John Jacobs, Strader's platoon commander, as a "true American hero."
Strader was a 2000 graduate of Cumberland County High School where he had been a member of the track team and wrestling squad. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines while still a senior at CCHS. He lived in the Hebbertsburg community with his grandparents, Lonnie and Estelle Morgan.
"This makes me happy they're honoring him like this and so proud, but it hurts, too. To bring all those memories back up, it still hurts," Lonnie Morgan said.
Strader was killed in action Nov. 12, 2004, at the age of 23 during his second tour of duty after he volunteered so he could be with his group of men.
Strader was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, First Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Divsion, Ist Marine Expenditionary Force out of Camp Pendleton, CA, when he was killed in action in the Anbar province.
The serviceman entered the Marine Corps in July 2000 and deployed to Kuwait in February of 2003. He fought in Iraq from March through June of that year and then returned to Camp Pendleton. When Strader learned his unit would be redeployed to Iraq, he put on hold his plans to attend college in Tennessee and requested an extension of his enlistment so he could accompany his unit.
The unit returned to Iraq in July 2004, and in October, Strader was promoted to sergeant.
In November of that year, Sgt. Strader and his platoon were assigned to participate in the battle for Fallujah. Platoon Commander John Jacobs gave the following account of what happened next.
On the day Strader was killed, his unit was near the center of the city when they came under heavy and intense fire from enemy hiding in houses, shops and on rooftops.
When the convoy stopped, the enemy attempted to overtake the soldiers from the rear but were stopped by Strader's action. As the enemy abandoned the attack and fled into a nearby house, Strader pursued them and once inside, a violent exchange of gunfire occurred, with Strader falling from a fatal wound.
Sgt. Strader was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. His personal awards also include the Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.
Jacobs spoke at the ceremony and said, "When you do cross this bridge and you do look at the name that's put up on this sign, you are looking at the name of a true American hero who died fighting, on his feet, and in defense of his fellow Marines."
Strader's father remembered the day his son was buried in Hebbertsburg Cemetery and said the support and love and respect shown by the community was something that he would never forget as long as he lived.
"The way people pulled over, waved flags and got out of their cars and saluted was incredible ... the love and support from this community has helped tremendously," Strader said.
The naming of the bridge request came from Andrew J. Benson, a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who lives in the Crab Orchard area and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Patriot Guard and Cumberland County Fire Department.
He told the county the naming of the bridge would be a fitting tribute, and noted Strader is buried in the Hebbertsburg Cemetery near Crab Orchard.
Bensen said when he first thought of naming it after Strader, he had no idea he had family in Hebbertsburg or even in the area.
Bensen brought the idea to 6th District Commissioner Terry Carter, who brought it to the county commission, passed a resolution and took it to the state of Tennessee, where state Rep. Cameron Sexton got the state's approval.
Sexton said during the ceremony that it was a group effort from the community to have the bridge named for Strader and that he was honored to be a part of the effort to have Strader "honored and remembered for his sacrifice."
Other speakers at the event included Bensen, Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr., and Jacobs.
Mike Higgins, pastor of Westel Baptist Church, lead prayer for the ceremony and members of the Korean War Veterans Honor Guard posted the colors.
Several members of the Patriot Guard Riders also attended the ceremony and displayed flags, honoring Strader and his family, and a 21-gun salute was also performed by the Battery M 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines of Chattanooga.
A list of all the casualties and names for the fallen of the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, was read by Bensen and a moment of silence was held, as well as a tolling of the bell by Jacobs.
Joe White of the Cumberland County Honor Guard played Taps at the end of the ceremony and the U.S. Marine Hymn was then sung.
After the program, Strader's father said, "This bridge it's just concrete and steel, but it's in the hearts of these people that Morgan's name will live. It's in the hearts of these people that we are supported and they support the community of this area those who are serving this country and it's such a powerful thing that they are able to do that and they do it repeatedly, and we appreciate that so much."