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NEWS | June 28, 2024

Highway 40 Through Casey Honors Fallen Illinois National Guard Soldier, Hometown Hero

By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office

U.S. Highway 40 through Casey, Illinois, is now the “Army Spc. Charles Lamb Memorial Highway” after a ceremony on June 26 at the Casey Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5762 nearly 20 years after the Illinois Army National Guard Soldier was killed during a mortar attack on a logistical base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq.

Lamb was assigned to the Illinois Army National Guard’s 1544th Transportation Company, based in Paris, Illinois, which deployed to Iraq in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 2004 deployment was among the toughest in modern history for the Illinois National Guard with five Soldiers killed in action and several others wounded.

“As we gather here today, let us not only remember and honor Specialist Charles Lamb, but also all the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country,” said 1st Sgt. (ret.) Tyler Heleine, who grew up with Lamb in Casey and deployed with him to Iraq. “We had five heroes who were killed in action during the 1544th’s 2004 deployment. Their families, friends, and fellow Soldiers, know we remember them and continue to say their names.”

Heleine said some in attendance at the ceremony knew the five – Shawna Morrison, who died with Lamb on Sept. 5, 2004, Jeremy Ridlen, Ivory Phipps, and Jessica Cawvey. “For those who did not, know each of them were special and the world is less without them in it,” he said. “We must never forget the debt of gratitude we owe them, and we must strive to live our lives in a way that honors their memory and upholds the values they fought to protect.”

Illinois Army National Guard Spc. (ret.) Aaron Wernz, who was wounded in the same mortar attack which claimed Lamb’s life, said it was proper to dedicate this highway in honor of Lamb.

“As a fellow Soldier, we shared a battlefield with Charlie at the time of his passing,” he said. “I, as I would imagine like most fellow Soldiers who experience the loss of a fellow Soldier, hope that such a loss would be for the greater good. As a combat veteran, I know that Soldiers do not choose battles or wars. That is usually reserved by people far from where the actual fighting takes place.”

Wernz said it becomes apparent very quickly you, as a Soldier in combat, ultimately end up fighting for each other.

He recalled the last time he saw Lamb.

“We were both in a small room, together after both being wounded at the same time,” he said. “As our fellow Soldiers fought desperately to save our lives, I remember looking over at Charlie as he looked over at me. I imagined by the looks we exchanged we had the same mutual concern for each other’s situation and worry for each other’s condition.”

Wernz said he does not know what Lamb’s last thoughts or words were.

“I do know that when I started to regain consciousness at the Baghdad Hospital and even though I could not yet speak, one of my first thoughts were of Charlie,” he said. “And although I couldn’t speak, I wrote down on a piece of paper Lamb’s name and a question mark.”

Wernz said it was at that moment he learned of Lamb’s death.

“Although I will never know the final thoughts Charlie had on this earth, I imagine they were not all that different from mine that day,” he said. “The concern of the condition of a fellow Soldier, a friend, that I knew was also injured and the desire that my family knew I loved them and always would.”

Wernz said, as survivors, Soldiers must show respect to the sacrifice of our fallen Soldiers by standing watch over their memory and continuing on, as hard as that might be.

“Those of us who shared the battlefield that our friends gave their lives on and the family and friends they left behind, must go on and live the best life we can as a tribute to the lives our fellow Soldiers were denied the opportunity to live,” he said. “Maybe someday if we can give the good life as a tribute to our fallen, maybe we will get to see that mischievous Charlie Lamb smile and he’ll be there to greet us as a friend.”

Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Tony Edwards, who retired from the 1544th Transportation Company after 24 years of service, said Lamb deserves the recognition.

“I never served as Lambchop’s platoon sergeant, but I remember him,” he said. “It probably doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years for a lot of people. They say time heals all – but it never completely heals.”

Heleine, who knew Lamb and his family since he was a child, said Lamb was a hero.

“The definition of a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities,” he said. “We can easily insert Charles “Chuck” Lamb into that description.”

Heleine said Lamb had a calmness about him with a smile that would light up a room and a presence that was always comforting to those around him.

“When I joined the 1544th in 2001, it was Chuck who made me feel comfortable right away,” he said. “When we deployed to Iraq, I was a nervous 18-year-old kid who wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But, again, it was Chuck who through his smile, confidence, calmness and short conversations made an uncomfortable situation a little easier for me.”

Heleine said Lamb left a lasting mark on all who knew him, whether it was a friend, a brother-in-arms, or a loved one.

Heleine said the dedication of the Specialist Charles Lamb Memorial Highway must serve as a symbol of eternal gratitude, respect and remembrance for his sacrifice. “Thank you, Chuck for your service, your sacrifice, and your legacy,” he said. “You will never be forgotten.”

“There are no words to convey the immense appreciation and gratitude this state and nation owes Charles and his family members,” said State Sen. Chapin Rose, who represents Illinois’ 51st Senate District. “It is poignant House Joint Resolution 50 passed on Memorial Day weekend. This is some small way to honor Charles’ sacrifice to this country.”

State Rep. Adam Niemerg, who represents the 102nd Illinois Legislative District, said it was an honor and privilege to pass Joint House Resolution 50, renaming the road in honor of Lamb.

“I’m passionate about veterans and sacrifices they make on a daily basis for freedom and liberty, so I can live in a free country and pursue my dreams,” he said. “It’s all because of you guys. It’s because of the men and women in uniform who serve our country.”

Lamb’s family described him as a fun-loving person with a mischievous smile.

“When Uncle Charlie passed, I was three years old, Ambrosia was four, and Macy was one year old,” said Boston Ridgley, Lamb’s niece. “Our memories are very vague, but the ones we have, we continue to cherish. When we were little our Uncle Charlie loved to hide our most precious items on top of a curio cabinet in our house. One of our favorite items was our little Mickey Mouse watches.”

Ambrosia Branson, Ridgley’s sister and Lamb’s niece,” continued with the memory.

“We would jump for what seemed like hours to get our watches, and all the while our Uncle Charlie laughed and laughed and thought it was the funniest thing in the world,” she said.

“It is memories like these that are the most precious to us,” said Ridgley’s and Branson’s sister Macy Roberts.

The three sisters thanked several people who made the ceremony possible.

“Thank you to Aunt Dixie (Clark) for being so persistent and getting a highway named in memory of Charlie, to Adam (Niemerg) and Chapin (Rose) for making this dream a reality, to our mamie and grandpa for raising such a great and selfless person,” Ridgley said. “Thank you especially to Uncle Charlie for making the ultimate sacrifice for our country and all of us. Although he can’t be here today, we extend a thank you to all of you for always remembering him and sharing all the memories you have of our Uncle Charlie.”

The three also read a special note from Lamb’s aunt, Dixie Clark.

“Thank you to all who helped along this journey,” Ridgley read. “Thank you to all who made this possible and to all who are in attendance today to honor Charlie’s memory. Thank you to the Casey VFW and its Auxiliary for all they have done to make this day memorable.”