Sacrifices honored

Gene Nethaway, commander of American Legion Post 502 in Elsie, is shown at the post holding photos of fallen soldiers who will be honored with dedicated roads: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ricky Kieffer, left, and U.S. Army Pfc. Benny Sloat.

OVID — Two fallen soldiers from the Ovid area soon will receive memorial road dedications to honor their sacrifices in Vietnam and Iraq.

Road sign recognitions have been approved for U.S. Army Pfc. Benny D. Sloat and Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Ricky A. Kieffer along Colony and Hollister roads. The roads intersect at Ovid-Elsie High School, from which both men graduated.

The signs are expected to be erected by Monday. A ceremony is set for 1 p.m. inside O-E High School auditorium Friday, Pearl Harbor Day. Doors open at noon and the public is invited.

Family members of Sloat and Kieffer, Maj. Gen. Michael Stone, assistant adjutant general of the Michigan Army National Guard, members of the 182 Field Artillery Regiment (Kieffer’s military unit), State Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and many others will attend.

“We wanted to give Benny and Ricky a lasting memorial. It’s the right thing to do. It’s very important that we not forget people who died in order to keep us free,” said Gene Nethaway, commander of Elsie American Legion Post 502, who led the push for road dedications with Leonard Huyck, commander of VFW Post 8964 in Ovid.

Sloat and Kieffer are the only graduates of Ovid-Elsie High School, since the smaller schools merged for 1966-67, who have perished on the battlefield.

The Sloat dedication is for 4.2 miles along Colony Road in Clinton County, from Meridian to Harmon roads. Kieffer’s memorial road is Hollister, from M-21 north to the Clinton-Gratiot line north of Elsie. Each memorial will consist of three signs, to be posted at the beginning and end of the road stretches, and at the intersection of Colony and Hollister roads.

The signs will read “Staff Sgt. Ricky Kieffer Memorial Road” and “Pfc. Benny Sloat Memorial Road,” and feature Army emblems.

The road dedications were approved Oct. 8 by the Clinton County Board of Commissioners. They will be the first dedications on county roads in the state, according to Clinton County Road Commission Manager Joe Pulver. All others are posted on state or federal highways.

The American Legion and VFW are sharing the cost of the signs, $50 each.

Sloat was 18 on Jan. 13, 1970, when he arrived in Vietnam. Assigned to B Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, he died about three months later, on March 19, 1970, in Quang Nam. Sloat and a co-driver were navigating an armored vehicle transporting nine other soldiers when the vehicle hit a 250-pound mine. All 11 people inside the vehicle were killed.

Sloat’s brother, Ricky Sloat, served a tour in Vietnam, coming home Dec. 31, 1969. A few months later he was told his kid brother was never coming home.

Benny Sloat had enlisted in the Army on Oct. 31, 1969. His father had to sign for him because he was only 17.

Sloat entered the Army under a “buddy plan” with four other friends. His friends all went to Germany.

Only Benny Sloat was sent to Vietnam.

“He was really a happy-go-lucky guy who always smiled a lot,” Ricky Sloat said. “He was quite athletic, and had a steady girlfriend.”

Sloat said he plans to attend the Dec. 7 ceremony, along with his wife, a brother and about 15 other family members.

“I think the memorial road dedications are terrific, for both Benny and Ricky Kieffer,” he said. “The celebration of their lives is really cool. It’s a well-deserved honor.”

Ovid is a small town: Ricky Sloat knew Ricky Kieffer, having coached him on a youth baseball team years ago. Nethaway was a classmate of Benny Sloat at O-E High School, and remembers him as a lively, friendly young man.

Kieffer, 36, of Ovid was killed March 15, 2005, while serving with the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 182nd Field Artillery Regiment (Multiple Rocket Launch System) based in Bay City. He died in Baghdad, Iraq, when his unit was attacked by snipers.

Kieffer had also worked as a light wheel vehicle mechanic for the Michigan National Guard in Lansing before his deployment overseas.

Kieffer arrived in Kuwait on Dec. 31, 2004, less than three months before he died. He was the 44th member of the U.S. armed forces with Michigan ties to be killed while supporting military operations in Iraq.

He left behind his parents, Howard and Barbara Kieffer; brother Howard; wife Patti and their two children: Dustin A. Kieffer, now a Michigan State Police trooper, and Kira L. Kieffer, a second-year college student in Saginaw.

Several family members are planning to attend the eremony, Barbara Kieffer said.

“We’re very excited about it, and feel very honored about it,” she said, adding that her late son was so selfless “he probably would say somebody else needed the recognition more.”

Nethaway said he got the idea to honor Kieffer and Sloat with memorial road dedications earlier this fall, during a flag-raising ceremony by the American Legion and VFW in the O-E football stadium.

“We decided we would like to honor (Kieffer and Sloat),” Nethaway said, “and do it in a fashion that would inspire and humble the community and the kids from the school district in a way that would show and remind everyone that freedom isn’t free.”

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