By Dan Spalding
AKRON – There’s an old adage that says military veterans die twice – once when they pass away and again after their names are never mentioned again.
On Saturday, June 20, numerous groups came together west of Akron to make sure that Indiana National Guardsman Phillip “Briar” Nicklaus, who died nearly five years ago, is never forgotten.
Nicklaus enlisted in the US Army after graduating from Rochester High School in 2010. He served as a corporal in the infantry and had been stationed in Afghanistan as part of the US war on terror. In April of 2015, after returning home, he joined the Indiana National Guard but died in a motorcycle accident four months later at the age of 24.
On Saturday, a placard honoring the veteran with his name, photo and short bio was added to a growing collection of placards that were on display at the Party Lite Jam, a three-day gathering of ABATE members west of Akron.
Nicklaus’ father, Phil, was at the event and was presented with a certificate and an Honor and Remember Flag with his son’s name emblazoned at the bottom.
Indiana Fallen Heroes works in unison with Honor and Remember to support Gold Star Families.
Indiana adopted the Honor and Remember flag a few years ago and the Nicklaus family becomes the 236th in Indiana to be presented with one.
Phil Nicklaus stood in awe after the ceremony Saturday under a blazing sun and 90-degree temperatures.
“This is just a fantastic thing. I just hope this keeps going. I really appreciate it,” Nicklaus said.
The effort to identify all of the fallen soldiers is an ongoing project that began as an assignment for a middle school class near Valparaiso six years ago, according to Paul Rosenwinkel, president of Indiana Fallen Heroes, who took over the volunteer efforts four years ago.
These days, numerous groups, many online, work to continue building the list. Rosenwinkel said he believes a full list would include about 500 men and women.
“We felt that every soldier has to be honored and the only way we can do that and honor their family is to come to them,” said Rosenwinkel, who is from Lowell.
The placard honoring Briar Nicklaus includes a photo of him sitting on his motorcycle that was taken one week before he died.
Briar’s father said he had a premonition about his son’s death. Briar left on a motorcycle ride Friday night and shook his father’s hand before leaving, something he rarely did.
That night, Phil Nicklaus said he dreamed his son had died and that he was at a funeral home when he was awakened with a pounding on the door at 5 a.m. by police who informed him of his loss.
“I knew he was gone,” Phil Nicklaus recalled.
The effort to remember the fallen soldier began earlier this year when Steve Fishburn, an employee of the Fulton County Highway Department, drove past the Nicklaus home and noticed a military marker at the corner of the lot.
Fishburn then reached out to members of a local ABATE club to see if his name could become part of the Indiana Fallen Heroes tradition.
Briar was the only child of Phil and Elizabeth Nicklaus.
“He was my hero. We were best friends. From the time he was a tiny little boy, we were together all the time,” Phil Nicklaus said.