Monday, October 26, 2015

County Honors Fallen Hero; Memorial Is Planned

Flags are at half-staff, yellow ribbons decorate towns, prayers are being said and memorials planned as Sequoyah County residents mourn the loss of one of their soldiers-Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler.

Sgt. Wheeler was mortally wounded in a fire fight with ISIS in northern Iraq Oct. 22 in a raid which freed a reported 70 others who were to be executed the next day.

Sgt. Wheeler is from Roland, and his family flew to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware to welcome his body back to the United States on Saturday.

Funeral arrangements for Sgt. Wheeler were still pending as of Monday. But his friends and extended family have already begun efforts in his memory.

Roland officials and citizens clothed their town Saturday in American flags and yellow ribbons in his honor.

Flags throughout the county are at half-staff for Sgt. Wheeler, and Sequoyah County Commissioners, at their Monday meeting, stood in silence for Sgt. Wheeler and prayed for he and his family, his wife, Ashely, and four sons.

A Muldrow High School classmate and friend has set up an account to fund a memorial for Sgt. Wheeler at Muldrow High School.

Roland Town Administrator Monty Lenington said town officials, police, firemen and several private citizens spent the day Saturday clothing their town in yellow ribbons and American flags. "It's beautiful," Lenington said. 

Lenington said the town will also hold a memorial service for Sgt. Wheeler but will wait until his funeral arrangements are announced. He said it was his understanding that Sgt. Wheeler will be buried in North Carolina, because he was stationed at Fort Bragg, and his wife and children reside there. 

"We will take our cue from the family," Lenington said.

Lenington said Sgt. Wheeler's brother, Zach, works for the Town of Roland, and has taken time off to mourn his brother.

"They are very, very close," Lenington said. "Whenever his brother came to visit, Zach would take time off to spend time with him. Zach even named his son Josh after him."

Sgt. Wheeler leaves behind one brother, Zach, and four sisters, Rachael, Heather, Tatira and Scotty, and his grandparents, Jack and Lily Shamblin of Roland.

All those who knew him said Sgt. Wheeler was a kind and loving man, who "would give you the shirt off his back." He often provided for his younger siblings, even after he joined the U.S. Army in 1995.

He was respectful but sometimes mischievous, his former classmates at Muldrow High School recalled.

Tranesa Moreland of Roland graduated with Sgt. Wheeler in 1994 and spent much time with Josh and Zach.

"My mom, Darla Lowder, took Josh and his family under her wing. Josh and Zach were special to her," Moreland  said. "I guess I was 8 to 9 when I first met them. Mom took us all to Sunday school and we went to church camp together. All of us would get in trouble on the church bus," Moreland recalled, with a laugh. "We were ornery. He was always ornery. But he would do anything for anybody. He would give his life for anyone."

Moreland said Sgt. Wheeler was liked too.

"He was the happiest person," she said. "He was happy. I can't think of any person who didn't like him."

Now, Moreland wants to honor Sgt. Wheeler. She has set up an account to raise funds for a memorial to be placed on the grounds at Muldrow High School where school officials have already agreed to have the memorial placed.

Anyone wishing to help with the memorial may donate to the Sgt. Joshua Wheeler Memorial Fund at any Firstar Bank. Moreland plans for at least a plaque but hopes for more.

And, if there is any money left over, Sgt. Wheeler's widow, Ashley, has asked that it be donated to Fisher House Foundation, which offers support to military families.

Moreland said she and others are also planning a local memorial service for Sgt. Wheeler for the very best of reasons.

"We are going to do some sort of service here," she said. "Something needs to be done remember him."

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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