Neighbors, officials gather to honor a local fallen hero

By Ronald MacArthur

In stark contrast to events taking place along another roadside in another area in the United States, more than 65 neighbors, elected officials, members of the military and family members gathered to pay tribute to a fallen hero on Friday, Aug. 26 - Spc. Ryan P. Long of Seaford.

Spc. Long, a U.S. Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning, Ga., was killed in a terrorist bombing as he manned a checkpoint near Baghdad, Iraq in April 2003.

A new memorial road marker honoring the memory of Spc. Long now graces the lawn of a home at the intersection of Old Meadow Road and Pit Road, the road where the Long family lived. Rep. Tina Fallon and Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels unveiled the marker and led the ceremony.

Rudy, Donna and Matthew (his brother) Long attended the brief ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of the sign - the first of its kind in the county. The memorial marker was financed and erected by Sussex County. Stickels, a Vietnam veteran, said the homage is a modest testament to Spc. Long's sacrifice and service to his country.

'I thank God for young men like Ryan Long who step up and stick up for us,' Stickels said.

'I didn't know Ryan, but I am sure he was not much different from the people I went to high school with who were killed in Vietnam. I believe this is someone who, like them, didn't care much for bullies. I'm confident that he was someone who, when he saw something wrong, wanted to take action to correct it.' He added that this is the first memorial marker, and 'unfortunately it won't be the last.'

'While this marker cannot make good on all that we owe, it does serve as a token of respect that we have for all of our servicemen,' added Fallon. ' I'm glad we were able to get this marker up, but whatever we do won't be enough to fully thank Ryan Long and all the other people who volunteer to place themselves in harms way. These men and women are not only serving our country, they're risking their lives to help people they've never met gain the freedom to determine their own future.' Getting the marker placed took a little effort. 'Ryan lived on Pit Road and several of his neighbors approached me about erecting some type of memorial in his honor,' Fallon said. 'I thought it was a great idea, but the state didn't really have an appropriate way to do this.' She said that is when she started a dialogue with Administrator Stickels and he came with the idea of a memorial marker to placed on the roadway.

When officials with DelDOT refused to allow the marker to placed within the road's right-of-way next to the road, Fallon said she spoke with the residents at the intersection of Pit Road and Old Meadow Road who quickly volunteered their property as location for the sign.

'Both of us consider it an honor to have the marker on our property,' said John Purse, who together with his wife Shirley own the home at the intersection of the two roads. 'I didn't know the young man very well, but I hold his service to this country in very high regard. This marker is a small token of the gratitude many of us feel toward him.'

Rudy Long took time to thank those attending the ceremony (the Longs now live in Wisconsin.)

'We thank you for taking the time to celebrate our son and hero Ryan,' he said. 'Ryan epitomized the brave men and women who are fighting to free the Iraqi people. He exhibited unwavering courage, dutiful service to his country and above all else honor. And the way he lived his life, and how we remember him, Ryan reminds each of us how good we can be.'

Spc. Long was a fourth generation soldier who joined the U.S. Army after he graduated from Seaford High School in 1999. He was on his third overseas deployment after serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

'Thank you for taking the time to commemorate our Ryan and to celebrate his life and to offer us your support,' his father said. 'Ryan dedicated his life to serving our country. He gave his life defending its values so that we may live in peace.'

Major John Fisher, of the Delaware National Guard, also spoke during the ceremony.

'We now have a permanent reminder to all of us who drive down this road of a man who sacrificed all he had to protect the liberties and the freedoms we enjoy,' he said.

Major Fisher was commander of the 249th Engineer Detachment during their deployment to Baghdad from May 2003 to April 2004. Since March 2003, eight Delawareans serving in the military have been killed in Iraq.

Joe Fulgham, communications officer, Delaware House of Representatives, contributed to this story.

4123 Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels speaks during a ceremony to unveil a sign in memory of Ryan Long. Photo by Ronald MacArthur

4133 Rep. Tina Fallon and Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels get some help from Seaford Mayor Dan Short as they unveil the new sign post in memory and honor of Spc. Ryan Long on Pit Road near Seaford. Photo by Ronald MacArthur

4126 Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels reads a proclamation to the Long family (from the left) Rudy, Donna and Matthew, during a ceremony last Friday. Photo by Ronald MacArthur

4114 Rep. Tina Fallon, who lives in the area, was instrumental in getting a sign in place in memory of Spc. Ryan Long. Photo by Ronald MacArthur

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