ARLINGTON — Someday she hopes to see it, the parade field in Germany that’s being named in her brother’s memory.
Justin Hebert was 20 when he was killed in combat in Iraq. Jessica Hebert was 21 at the time. It didn’t seem so long ago that her kid brother, the sports fanatic who shared her sarcastic sense of humor, had grown bigger and taller than her.
Justin Hebert joined the U.S. Army around the same time he graduated from Arlington High School. He wasn’t yet 18. He wanted to serve, and to see the world outside of Silvana.
He died when the vehicle he was driving was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. That was 2003.
Some people forget about the wars in the Middle East, Jessica Hebert said. And yet, the Army hasn’t forgotten Justin Hebert, and neither has Silvana.
Jessica Hebert got word recently that the Army plans to unveil a memorial wall in August for fallen paratroopers, including Justin Hebert. The same Army base, in Grafenwoehr, Germany, also plans to dedicate its parade field to Hebert. Hebert’s artillery regiment has connections to the base.
The news from Germany was heartwarming and bittersweet at the same time, Jessica Hebert said. In many ways, she has healed since her brother’s death, and in other ways, the pain never stops. She can’t hear the national anthem without thinking about him. A sign for a Memorial Day sale still rubs her the wrong way.
“My own blood signed his life up for that,” she said. “Every time I see a flag, I think of him and everybody that’s fallen, every day.”
Her brother is buried at the Little White Church on the Hill, just outside of town.
Jessica Hebert tends to visit when she needs him most. That includes Memorial Day and his birthday, July 28. Sometimes she stops at Willow & Jim’s Country Cafe, and sometimes she gets recognized and the bill disappears. Others remember, too.
After 13 years, a number of local memorial efforts have come and gone. There was a charity bike ride, and there used to be a scholarship. The tree in a memorial garden had to be torn out. A mural on a local business was lost during renovation.
The remaining memorials include a framed U.S. flag on the side of a local spa, with a board people can sign and a plaque. On the other side of the building, between the spa and Willow & Jim’s, flowers border the Silvana school bell. A plaque in the bell’s stone base has a picture of Hebert and a message in his memory.
Germany’s a long way away.
Reporter Kari Bray contributed to this story.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.