On May 23, 2004 Illinois Army National Guard Spc. Jeremy Ridlen, of Maroa, Illinois, was killed in action while serving with the 1544th Transportation Company deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Ridlen’s sacrifice was memorialized as the Maroa, Illinois, post office was renamed the Spc. Jeremy Ridlen Post Office.
“As a child, Jeremy must have visited the Maroa Post Office hundreds or thousands of times,” said Brig. Gen. Rodney Boyd, Assistant Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard during the Jeremy Ridlen Post Office dedication ceremony at the Maroa Fire Department. “From this day forward, his name will be memorialized in that post office in this community for years to come. Anyone who comes into that building will know a hero once came through those same doors.”
The dedication ceremony was born of an idea from Maroa resident James Keith, who approached U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis at an event in Macon County.
“James came to me and asked what can we do to honor Jeremy Ridlen,” Davis said. “This is one small token of our appreciation to Jeremy Ridlen and the many brave men and women in the military who have stood up to protect our freedoms.”
After high school, Ridlen, and his twin brother Jason, who graduated from the Maroa-Forsyth High School, attended Illinois State University. Both enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard, and both were assigned to the 1544th Transportation Company, based in Paris, Illinois.
In 2003, the unit was activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and after spending a couple of months training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, the 1544th deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, arriving in country in February, 2004. The 1544th was assigned to provide security for convoys moving throughout Iraq, specifically in an area called the Sunni Triangle. On May 23, 2004, the 1544th convoy was struck by a vehicle packed with explosives and small arms fire.
Davis spoke directly to the Ridlen family, including father Edward, mother Cheryl, sister Amanda, and twin brother Jason.
“By designating this post office in Jeremy’s honor, it will serve as a reminder to those generations who come after us, and who walk into the Maroa post office. They may not know Jeremy, or the Ridlen family, but they will see the plaque honoring his service, his commitment, and his sacrifice,” Davis said. “Maybe that will be the reason they go home and decide to research who Jeremy was and what he meant to this community. That will be the long-lasting legacy of Jeremy’s sacrifice.”
Davis, whose term in Congress ends in January, said events like this is one of the best parts of his job.
“I’ve met presidents in the White House and royalty, but all that pales in comparison to take an idea, turn it into legislation, and signed into law by the President of the United States.
“This is the long-lasting legacy of an idea to honor a hero who walked among us,” Davis said.
Davis thanked the Ridlen family for their sacrifice.
“Thank you for allowing Jeremy to protect all of us and for allowing us to honor him today,” Davis said.
Among those in attendance at the dedication ceremony were several Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers and veterans of the 1544th who served with Ridlen, including Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Tuttle, who served with Ridlen in Iraq.
“From the day I met him, Jeremy exhibited those traits that make him a true hero,” Tuttle said. “He had the courage to always be himself no matter the problem and had the dedication to improve himself and those around him.”
Tuttle said Ridlen did that quietly, letting his faith and actions speak louder than any boasting could have.
“Unfortunately, we seldom appreciate those individuals until they are no longer around us,” he said. “This will serve as a reminder to future generations of what a true hero looks like long after we’re gone.”
Tuttle said the renaming of a post office could not be a more fitting memorial to Ridlen, especially given the 1544th’s mission in Iraq.
“Most units assigned convoy security missions arrived at a staging yard and were given whatever convoy was staged and ready for movement at that time,” Tuttle said. “The 1544th though was directly assigned to Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) contractors who were in charge of transporting the mail throughout central Iraq to bases for the troops.”
Tuttle said KBR dubbed themselves the Iron Pony Express and quickly adopted the 1544th.
“Due to the daily missions, those Soldiers and KBR contractors became a family, regardless of the fact we weren’t all serving in uniform,” he said.
Tuttle said Ridlen served as a gunner for his convoy team.
“Gunners for these teams often had to make life and death decisions in a blink of an eye and were trusted to do so without the input of the convoy commander or the person in charge,” Tuttle said. “Throughout all this Jeremy never waived in his demeanor or his courage under fire. He continued to be steadfast and seek opportunities to help fellow Soldiers.”
Tuttle said on May 23, 2004, Ridlen continued to show his dedication to helping others by volunteering to take the place on a gun team for a Soldier who was sick.
“With the convoy under attack, Jeremy remained in his gun box and returned fire,” Tuttle said. “Those traits he exhibited his whole life showed up on that day to make sure the convoy was able to move out of the area safely. That courage makes him a true hero.”
Bernice Joseph, customer relations manager for the U.S. Postal Service, told those in attendance that a very special set of circumstances and events must occur in order for a post office to be dedicated in honor of someone.
“Today’s dedication would not be possible without the heroism of Specialist Jeremy Ridlen who left an enduring mark on our society and who represents the very best of America,” she said. “His duty to his country is a reminder that liberty at home must be defended and our freedom is something we must respect and earn every day of our lives.”
Joseph said the dedication to Ridlen will serve as a testament to his bravery and a constant reminder to all those who have given their lives in service to their country.
“Through his valiant service, Specialist Ridlen has helped ensure our rights and freedoms are secure in our homes and in the places we work,” she said. “Jeremy will be immortalized in the community in which he attended high school. His legacy of service to his country will be permanently honored with the renaming of the Maroa Post Office as the Army National Guard Spc. Jeremy Ridlen Post Office.”
Joseph said the entire U.S. Postal Service and its nearly 500,000 employees are privileged to have the name and spirit of Jeremy Ridlen forever associated with the Maroa post office.