Steve Loehrke’s daughter was stabbed to death by a hit-man-soldier hired by her husband, a fellow soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
Christina Ware’s husband, an active-duty Ohio National Guard member, died of leukemia as he was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
Evelyn Lundberg Stratton’s grandfather, an immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, died when his Merchant Marine ship was sunk during World War II.
Their relatives all died while honorably serving their country, but they were labeled ineligible for Ohio’s “Gold Star Family” license plate reserved for the kin of service members killed in combat zones.
But they now can honor the service and loss of their loved ones on their car bumpers with the first license plate of its type in the U.S.
Ohio today unveiled its “Military Sacrifice” license plate to acknowledge the families of military men and women who die outside combat zones.
In a ceremony at the Department of Public Safety headquarters, there was a flurry of flags, patriotic speeches and a few tears as family members accepted the first sets of license plates authorized by unanimous vote of the General Assembly.
Loehrke’s daughter, Sgt. Christina Loehrke Smith, died in 2008 in a slaying arranged by her husband. Loehrke had looked forward to obtaining a Gold Star plate, only to learn Ohio did not recognize his daughter’s service.
“How proud we are of the sacrifice of our loved ones,” said Loehrke, of Mount Orab in Brown County. “They are heroes. We owe them and our families this recognition.”
“It’s great. It’s wonderful,” she said. “It shows everybody we’re dealing with a sacrifice.”
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Lundberg Stratton joined Loehrke and others in lobbying lawmakers for the license-plate acknowledgement. She only recently learned she is entitled, after all, to a “Gold Star Family” license plate.
Her grandfather, Robert Henricksen, went to sea at age 14 in Sweden and came to the U.S. to pilot a tug boat around New York City harbor. He joined the Merchant Marines and died from a Nazi torpedo while ferrying U.S. aid to England.
Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, worked for years to establish the license plate to honor those who died while serving in non-combat roles.
“There’s not awareness of their sacrifice,” he said. “We need to understand that sacrifice continues. We need to honor them. … It is a very good thing that we do,” he said.