WENTZVILLE, Mo. (KTVI) – The state of Missouri honored a fallen Marine with a memorial sign on Interstate 70, then sent his family the bill. Missouri lawmakers are now pushing to make this the last time something like this ever happens.
The Missouri Department of Transportation recently erected the signs on eastbound and westbound I-70, christening an overpass in Wentzville as the Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz Memorial Bridge.
The honor means the world to his family, but getting a bill from the Missouri Department of Transportation was unforeseen.
“We were a little shocked to get a bill in the mail for $3,200 to pay for our own signs,” said Jared Schmitz’s father, Mark Schmitz. “I started to scratch my head with that. I was like, ‘Welcome to Missouri!’ Does everybody have to go through this? That’s insane.”
State officials who presented the family with an official state proclamation at the sign dedication a few weeks ago were a little shocked, too.
“It really does have a look that we’re selling signs to the families of our fallen heroes and then paying for grass cutting along the highways,” said State Rep. Tricia Byrnes, R-Wenztville. “That is not a look we want in Missouri.”
Jared Schmitz, 20, was one of the 13 service members killed by a suicide bomber during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 26, 2021.
His family will forever remember the support from the thousands who lined I-70 and its overpasses from St. Louis Lambert International Airport to Baue Funeral Home in St. Charles for his homecoming procession. They remember the signs people were holding, the tears they were crying.
Donations poured into the charity his family started, The Freedom 13, which supports veterans and honors the fallen.
With all of the donations, paying for the signs was not an issue for the Schmitz family. Still, Jared Schmitz’s father thinks about cases where maybe it is an issue. He also thinks about his daughters crossing that very overpass going to and from school.
“The bridge stands for what our Marines do,” he said. “They hold people up. Ironically, my daughters cross that bridge twice a day. It just makes perfect sense. In their minds — they’re only 11 and 13 — that’s their brother’s bridge. That means the world to us. I think about 30,000 cars a day that go through here.”
He checked with the families of the others who died with his son that day, including those that have been honored in other states. None of those families was sent a bill for it, he said.
Byrnes introduced House Bill 882 to end the practice of billing police, firefighter and military families for memorial signs honoring the fallen.
“It’s kind of a sucker punch. I don’t ever want a hero’s family to feel that way ever again,” she said. “It really embarrasses Missouri. We really want to honor our heroes. This is a fix I think we have to make very quickly. … We just had a police officer that passed in Hermann; we had some soldiers that just passed away recently in the news.”
The bill passed the Missouri House with unanimous support, and a Missouri Senate committee held a hearing on it Wednesday. Byrnes is calling on state senators and the governor to make it state law.