WENTZVILLE, Mo. – A new highway bridge in Wentzville is set to be named after Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, who was among the 13 U.S. Marines killed in the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan last August.
“When we first started talking about this, they were talking about naming a road after him,” the fallen Marine’s father, Mark Schmitz, told NewsTalk STL. “I said, ‘You know, for what Jared stood for – helping people and holding people up – a bridge made more sense.’ And that bridge is crossed every single morning and every single afternoon by my daughters.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation approved the naming of the Jared Schmitz Memorial Bridge at I-70 and the David Hoekel Parkway exit with a $3,200 price tag for installation. There will be two signs in memory of Schmitz’s sacrifice, one for each side of the highway.
Mark started a GoFundMe to cover the cost, which quickly surpassed the $3,200 target on Thursday afternoon, about three weeks before the one-year anniversary of the 20-year-old’s death on Aug. 26.
Jared attended Fort Zumwalt South High School, from which he graduated in 2019. The Wentzville native reportedly decided to join the Marines around his freshman or sophomore year in high school and began training ferociously with other recruits, despite not being enlisted yet.
“The 13 that we lost last year got so much publicity, and that’s wonderful,” Mark said. “But there are so many more heroes that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. By remembering my son, by remembering the other 12, hopefully people are going to start to remember all of them.”
In honor of his son and the 12 other soldiers murdered in Kabul, Mark and his wife Jacyln started The Freedom 13, a 501c(3) nonprofit offering resources to other veterans and service members.
“With the loss of their son, their new mission in life has shifted to try and take care of as many veteran service members as they can,” the organization’s website reads. “The Freedom 13 nonprofit has been set up as another organization to aid U.S. military veterans with another resource on their journey to leading a fully productive civilian life. We aim to strengthen the bonds they share with their families and other veterans as well as help them rediscover themselves.”
The Freedom 13 website says it offers PTSD support, recreational retreats and mental health aid through service dogs, while working to provide homes for veterans.
“We’re trying to make sure everybody does know who he is and who he was,” Mark said of his son. “There’s a much bigger picture here, though. With our nonprofit, The Freedom 13, it’s not just about our 13. It’s about everyone that has ever paid that sacrifice. The more roads, signs, bridges, buildings, sports complexes or whatever that can be named after these warriors is important for everyone.”
President Biden’s botched attempt to withdraw U.S. personnel and citizens from Afghanistan last summer was met with a swift Taliban takeover of the country’s government, media and law enforcement. Consequently, Schmitz was one of roughly 5,000 troops deployed to Kabul to assist with evacuation efforts.
Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the crowds gathered at Kabul’s airport and killed 13 U.S. Marines and at least 60 Afghans, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. The attacks also wounded dozens of other U.S. troops and Afghan citizens.
For more information on how to donate or volunteer for The Freedom 13, visit its website.