Ryan Giese wanted to be a Marine his entire life and follow in his father’s footsteps.
“He loved being a grunt,” said Larry Giese, holding back tears on Veterans Day as he told how his son’s unit suffered zero deaths in Iraq but was decimated in Afghanistan.
The Greenhats, as they were nicknamed by the Taliban, were feared by insurgents. Still, 13 of Giese’s unit were killed within a six-month window.
Lance Cpl. “Goose” was the last of that number. It was Jan. 7, 2011, and the Lorain native, just 24 years old, was on the final foot patrol of his tour when an improvised explosive device took his life.
Now Giese is memorialized by a mural unveiled Saturday in downtown Amherst. It bears the likenesses of 10 Lorain County servicemen who died in the War on Terror.
Several Gold Star families were the guests of honor at a ceremony on Park Avenue, where artists Mike Sekletar and Brian Goodwin have also created building-tall tributes to the heroes of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Tom Barnes, father of Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes of Lorain, shared how he told his son that enlistment would almost certainly mean deployment to Iraq. “Dad, that’s why I want to join,” his son responded.
The younger Barnes made it home from Iraq and everyone tried to stop him from going back. A few months later, he was killed by an IED.
Laura Hall remembered her brother, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Hall of Lorain, as a gentle spirit and a deep thinker who would sit apart from others in his unit and read his Bible.
He was killed two months after his 31st birthday in Afghanistan but the Bible was returned to his family; a Christmas card was found inside. “We knew he carried God with him everywhere he went,” but the card showed he also carried his family’s love, his sister said.
Marines Lance Cpl. Colin Smith took the stage briefly to speak. A Purple Heart recipient, he was wounded Oct. 30, 2006, when his unit was hit by sniper fire in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.
He celebrated his 11th “alive day” this year.
“I’m not a hero. I’m a survivor. Those are the ones who didn’t survive,” he said, waving toward the men depicted by the mural.
The addition of the Iraq and Afghanistan mural completes the Amherst wall.
“We could have easily been buddies with any of these guys, and even though I never had the honor of meeting any of them, it’s emotional,” Sekletar said.
In the spring, he and Goodwin will add images of Army Spc. Jason Cox and Army Sgt. Bruce Horner of Lorain to the wall. Their families could not be reached until after the project was started this fall.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.