Highland News Leader

Green Beret from Highland died in Afghanistan in 2008

U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Gary Joseph Vasquez
U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Gary Joseph Vasquez

U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Gary Joseph Vasquez was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was killed in 2008 and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda had been deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed in a training exercise in Hawthorne, Nev., in 2013. Stories about these two veterans will follow after I tell you about the dedication of our War Veterans Cabinet scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Highland Home Museum, with the Highland Honor Guard and a 21-gun salute. I also want to tell you about our newest volunteer, Jeanette Gombos.

Jeanette Hohl (Mrs. Bert) Gombos of Sawmill Road, Pierron, has now joined our volunteers for the Highland Home Museum. Jeanette’s father Russell Hohl, of Pierron, was a World War II veteran serving in the Philippines about the same time as I did and her mother was post master of Pierron for about 20 years, after Mr. Ammann. Jeanette was a computer operator for 26 years for B-Line and then Cooper-B-Line Systems. She became interested in entering these veterans to our museum computer and hopes to have the over 600 World War II veterans entered into our computer alphabetically and printed in a three ring binder for our dedication on Nov. 10. This will make it easy to locate a veteran’s photo and/or service history. Thanks Jeanette and welcome aboard.

My wife, Lorna Ritt Harris, has entered over 4,000 items to this computer. These items are already shelved, framed or posted in the five rooms, main hallway and stairway of the first floor of the 1912 Highland Home building at 1600 Walnut St., now our museum. If you plan on coming to view the museum, please come in the new white and glass doors under the new portico. Make two left turns, walk ahead and then take the elevator to the first floor of the old building. You will be able to visit the museum from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 after the dedication and the first Saturday of each of the following months from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the last tour of the day.

Sgt. First Class Gary Joseph Vasquez of Highland was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was killed, Sept. 29, 2008, near Yakhchal, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Vasquez, 33; Capt. Richard G. Cliff Jr. of South Carolina, 29; and Sgt. First Class Jamie Nicholas of West Virginia, 32, where on a combat reconnaissance patrol when their vehicle hit an enemy IED (improvised explosive device) and all three were killed.

Vasquez was survived by his wife, Sarah Kramer Vasquez, who he married on Oct.14, 2006; his mother, Margaret DuHasek, his brother, Barry DuHasek, both of Highland and his sister, Keely Vasquez of Chicago. Gary was proceeded in death by his father, Lt. Col. Frank Vasquez, who served in Vietnam. Gary carried his father’s dog tags as a remembrance of his father’s military service to our country.

Gary Vasquez graduated from Highland High School in 1992 and from Illinois State University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in theater. He then moved to Chicago, where he worked in local theater and worked in a bar. He also began working with a veterans group and began to rethink his priorities and patriotism.

Gary volunteered for military service in January 2000 as a cavalry scout, with basic training and advanced military training at Fort Knox, Ky. He then was assigned to Troop A, 17th Cavalry Regiment (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C. Gary began the Special Forces Course in 2002 and by 2004, had earned his Green Beret as a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. Gary’s many awards and decorations included two Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism, Air Assault Badge and eight other medals.

Funeral arrangements for Gary Vasquez were as follows: Visitation on Friday, Oct. 11, 2008, at Spengel-Boulanger; services Saturday at St. Paul Catholic Church in Highland, with burial in St. Joseph Cemetery, Highland.

State Rep. Charles Meier sponsored a resolution to name part of Illinois 160 from Highland to Trenton as Sgt. Gary J. Vasquez Green Beret Memorial Highway in 2015. (Published in Charlotte, N.C., Observer on Oct. 9, 2008, Highland News Leader and Find-A-Grave Memorial, Feb. 27, 2015.)

Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, U.S. Marine Corps, was killed on the night of March 18, 2013, due to a mortar misfire during a training exercise in Hawthorne, Nev. Aaron had survived an improvised explosive device on his vehicle while in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom in his second deployment.

Ripperda was born to Kent and Tina Ripperda and graduated from Highland High School with honors. Aaron then attended St. Xavier University in Chicago, majoring in sociology with a minor in archaeology, before transferring to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Changing ambitions, he graduated with an associate’s degree in culinary arts and fine dining from L’Ecole Culinaire. He excelled in being a chef and enjoyed entertaining loved ones with his cooking skills.

Aaron’s interests and friendships were heartfelt. Yet, he yearned to be a Marine. That was his next move, joining the Marines. He was deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. First to Haiti for humanitarian relief, then on to the Middle East and Africa. His second deployment was to Afghanistan, where an Improvised Explosive Device struck his vehicle. He was awarded the U.S. Marine Corps Meritorious Mast for Outstanding Service. This award honors his duties as a team leader, assistant patrol leader and vehicle commander in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in which he conducted himself courageously and professionally during the strike on his vehicle.

Aaron had returned to the states and was part of a team conducting a training exercise in Hawthorne, Nev. Due to a mortar misfire on the night of March 18, 2013, Aaron was killed. Six other Marines were killed and eight Marines were injured.

Aaron leaves a legacy of love, adventure and friendship.

Both Gary and Aaron were honored by the City of Highland and were given post flags for the Memorial Day Ceremony and Dedication of VETERANS HONOR PARKWAY, May 25, 2015 at Dennis Rinderer Park. (Thanks to the Dedication folders and to Lana Hediger at City Hall.)