LUCERNE VALLEY — Nearly 2,030 days have passed since U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Walker was killed on Mother’s Day in 2012 near Bowri Tana, Afghanistan, but the community he left behind never forgot the former Cub Scout who dug holes in the grass when Little League games proved dull.
Nor did they forget the price he paid, according to Sharon Fritz, who helped spearhead an effort, as a member of the Lucerne Valley Veterans Monument Committee, to rename a section of State Route 247 in Walker’s memory.
“When we worked so hard to raise money for the veterans monuments, to put one here at Pioneer Park and one at the Lucerne Valley Memorial Park, after we fundraised for that and got those in, in the back of our mind always Patti (Riddle) and I were saying, ‘We need to do something for Brian,’” Fritz said. “Something permanent. Something important.”
On Wednesday, after a process that began not long after Walker’s death, the “Sergeant Brian Walker Memorial Highway” sign was unveiled, signed by residents and family, dedicated and installed just west of Allen Way.
Fritz and Riddle decided to rename the state route — between Allen Way and Camp Rock Road — because “that way it would be forever,” Fritz told a crowd gathered inside the Lucerne Valley Community Center.
And so the pair led a group that included resident Cliff Reed and Fritz’s husband, Scott, in the effort. They took the idea to Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, who agreed to author a resolution.
Obernolte, R-Hesperia, told the Community Center crowd the project took several months because, in California, renaming part of a highway “is no less difficult than passing a new law.”
“We have to introduce what’s called an assembly concurrent resolution (ACR), and that goes the same path as a bill goes — through the Legislature,” he said. “So it’s heard in the Transportation Committee. If it passes there, it’s heard in the entire Assembly floor. And if, by chance, you get it out of the Assembly, it goes over to the Senate and the whole process starts over again.”
But Obernolte had procedural experience after authoring a similar resolution for Lake Arrowhead residents two years ago, and he was successful in getting Walker’s resolution through the political hoops.
“I’m very proud that this piece of legislation — it was ACR 180 last year — did not get a single no vote in either chamber of the Legislature, which I think is really appropriate and really fitting,” Obernolte said. “I hope that every time someone drives by this sign and reads these words that they reflect, even just for a moment, on the sacrifices that people like Sgt. Walker have made for our freedom.”
Amid Obernolte’s push to make the resolution a success, Sharon Fritz said a fundraising campaign resulted in generous donations from Lucerne Valley residents and merchants, but they weren’t enough to cover costs.
At that point — after a conversation with Scott Fritz — San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor James Ramos provided the remaining necessary funds, a move field representative Mark Lundquist said was Ramos’ privilege.
“This tragedy was one that touched his heart,” Lundquist said of Ramos. “He was more than happy to help with this project. From now on you’ll see this sign … (as) a testament to our fallen.”
Walker, a graduate of Lucerne Valley High School, was killed six days after arriving in the Middle East for his second deployment after an improvised explosive device hit a vehicle under his command. The blast also killed Pfc. Richard L. McNulty III, of Missouri.
Walker was 25. McNulty was 22.
The bittersweet emotions inside the Community Center we’re palpable as Walker’s widow, Ashley, accepted a flag that Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, had flown above the U.S. Capitol after her husband’s death.
Ashley Walker told the Daily Press she and Brian Walker were married Dec. 11, 2010, after meeting at Fort Bragg in northern California. They both deployed in 2012. It was Ashley Walker’s first. She traveled from Kingman, Arizona, to attend the sign dedication, saying “words can’t really explain” how she felt in seeing the state route renamed in her late husband’s honor.
Riddle, meanwhile, who first met Brian Walker “when he was in diapers down to his knees,” described him as an adventurous boy who loved camping and derby racing. She recalled a story from his Little League days that spoke to his competitive nature.
“We were having a bad game. And, you know, sometimes stuff doesn’t work out,” Riddle said. “All the kids kept saying, ‘This is bad. We stink.’ And I said, ‘No you don’t. You’re out there playing. That’s the main thing. Get out there and you try your hardest.’ And Brian goes, ‘I am, but the other team is winning!’
It was Reed, however, who touched on Brian Walker’s character in a moment that reminded all what Lucerne Valley had lost:
“First time I met Brian, he was working for the feed store … here in town,” Reed said. “I was told to go shut the water off because they hadn’t paid the bill. I told him I was going to do it. He said, ‘Give me an hour. I’ll have the money.’ I went back in an hour. He had the money.
“I’m not sure, to this day, whether he got repaid for that past due bill, but it showed what an upstanding young man he was at 16 (or) 17 years old. That’s been a long time ago that I had to do that. I appreciate the fact that he (paid) because there was a lot of animals that would’ve done without water.”
Reed said he only met Brian Walker two or three times, but he never forgot that first encounter. It left a lasting impression on the man who would one day help immortalize a local hero with his own stretch of road.