Family to honor fallen Reed City soldier, others with statue

REED CITY — There are some things time just cannot change.

It’s something Melissa Shilling knows all too well as she — and her family — continues to grieve at the loss of her brother, Brad.

A 2003 graduate of Reed City High School, Spec. Brad Shilling was killed on Nov. 18, 2006, while serving in southeastern Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His death left behind a wife, two small children, his sisters, mother and many others.

Ten years later, his loss remains a very painful part of her everyday life.

“We have all struggled with Brad’s death,” Melissa said via email. “There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t grieve for him. Sometimes our grieving is more like a broken loop with anger, denial and heartache all coming back around. Brad’s death had such an impact on our family and friends.

“We have always been close and we have always supported each other,” she said. “Brad’s death devastated our family. His kids are so much like him. They both have his smile and big heart. They both are so caring and athletic.

“There isn’t a person he encountered that hasn’t been affected by him. Brad had such a generous heart, he was always helping people.”

Coping with their grief over the last decade, Melissa, who lives in southeastern Michigan, and her many family members who live in Osceola County, decided to spearhead an effort that in some way would honor and memorialize Brad.

“As a family, we have always gotten together to celebrate his life, but we have never had a place to honor him,” she said. “We discussed ideas of places and things to do in his honor and came up with a memorial statue.”

The family decided on a battlefield cross, which is a soldier’s rifle between two boots with a helmet on top.

As much as the family seeks to honor Brad, Melissa said they also want to recognize the 212 other service members from Michigan who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom with a headstone with those names engraved in it.

When it came time to decide where the statue would go, Melissa said the family felt it was important to have it located in Reed City.

“We chose Reed City mainly because Brad was raised there,” she said. “It is also a crossroads for main roads, so hopefully other Michigan families pass by and know there is a place that remembers their fallen.”

To help raise funds and awareness of what they wanted to do, Melissa started a Facebook page and the family organized a You’re My Hero run/walk that was held in June in Big Rapids.

“The Facebook page and run we held made it possible to raise funds for the statue,” she said. “It helped spread the word of what we wanted to create and how important is for our family.”

With a project like this, Melissa said there were some challenges they had to work through.

“We had hopes of a battlefield cross statue and a headstone with all of the soldiers’ names on it,” she said. “We were able to raise enough funds for the statue, but not the headstone.”

Melissa then contacted Reed City Manager Ron Howell about having the statue in Reed City.

Howell said in talking with Melissa and learning about the family’s efforts to recognize Brad, it led to a conversation by officials.

“Melissa wanted to do something very special for her brother,” he said. “She and her family raised those funds to buy that statue.

“Separately, because of her and her family’s efforts to something in remembrance of Brad, it actually started us discussing a veterans memorial park.”

Howell said city officials believe Brad is the only Osceola County soldier to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Howell said the family will be bringing the statue to Reed City on Saturday, Nov. 19, with planned turnover at The Depot around 2 p.m.

“It is very fitting that the family has obtained this statue in remembrance of Bradley, and it will end up serving as a remembrance for all in those conflicts and has a place in the park, wherever that park may be,” Howell said. “It’s one of those things in life that when you start talking about it just moves forward. It started with that original conversation with Melissa, and has now expanded a full memorial park.”

With the city’s decision to have the statue and be part of its veterans memorial park, Melissa said it is difficult to put into words how meaningful it is for her and her family have someplace to remember Brad.

“I’m grateful that we will have a peaceful place to go to remember him and all of Michigan’s fallen,” she said. “Ron (Howell) and the city are so compassionate and helpful in making this a possibility. We hope to do more fundraisers to be able to accomplish the headstone by the time the city breaks ground on a memorial park.”

Melissa said presenting the statue to the city will be the culmination of so many people working and supporting the family’s efforts.

“I’m sure I will feel relief and sadness,” she said. “We have spent over a year working on this memorial and it has been very therapeutic for our family. I am hopeful it will give people a place to come and remember their soldier. I hope it will be a peaceful place.”

For those wishing to assist with helping the family complete the headstone, they can contact Melissa through the “You’re My Hero run” on Facebook or through email, melissa_shilling123@yahoo.com.