On May 13, Lt. Robert Forwalder was honored in a special ceremony at Green High's Courtyard Veteran's Memorial Garden.
Forwalder was a 1985 Green graduate. After graduation he attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1989. After attending Flight School at Pensacola from 1989 to 1991 he received his wings as a Naval Flight Officer on the Grumman E-2C "Hawkeye", an airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft.
Forwalder deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, CVA-59, and flew daily patrols over Iraq with VAW-122 during "Operation Provide Comfort." In July of 1991, he was forced to bail out of his E-2C after an engine caught fire over the Mediterranean Sea, receiving minor injuries during the bailout. Following this, he transferred to VAW-124 on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, CVN-71.
During humanitarian operations of the coast of Bosnia, Forwalder took part in missions to ensure the safe dropping of supplies over Sarajevo. On March 26, 1993, while returning to the Roosevelt, the E-2 had to take a wave off due to fouled deck conditions on the carrier in bad weather. Shortly afterward, the plane disappeared from radar, crashing into the Ionian Sea. Despite immediate rescue efforts, all five crew members were lost at sea and their bodies were not recovered.
As if his death was not tragic enough, his wife Katie was also expecting their first child. A few weeks after his death, she gave birth to their son, Sean. Eventually, Sean would follow in his father's footsteps and attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and graduate in 2015. He was then accepted into Flight School and is training to fly helicopters.
In the ceremony at the memorial courtyard, the ROTC Color Guard presented and raised the American flag, while taps were played. Following that, the unit presented Forwalder's mother, Bev, a bouquet of flowers and placed the memorial plaque in the garden. Earlier, she had also been given flowers by a member of the class of 1985. Outside the window,s several hundred Green students watched through the garden windows in silence as the ceremony took place. Forwalder was the second veteran to be so honored. His plaque was placed next to that of Air Force Sgt. Matthew Kuglics, who was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on June 5, 2007.
Green Principal Cindy Brown then addressed the group of onlookers. She talked about his accomplishments while at Green High. These included being class Salutatorian, a member of the Ensemble and a member of the National Honor Society. She observed that "he loved to play his guitar and that many people claimed he had perfect pitch". In addition, he was also a on the Academic Challenge Team, a recipient on the Manhood Award and the Presidential Fitness Award.
After the ceremony, Forwalder's brother, Ron, a veteran of both the Navy and Army, talked about his brother's accomplishments. Forwalder was both a rifle and pistol expert, went through Army jump school at Ft. Benning, and was a Naval parachutist. In addition,n he went through both the Navy and Air Force Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) schools, a very unusual occurrence. During his Naval career, he completed more than 100 carrier landings and amassed more than 600 flight hours. As a final recognition to honor his sacrifice, Forwalder was posthumously awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.
"I really felt it was a wonderful ceremony," Bev Forwalder said. "It really honored Bob in every way possible. Everyone went out of their way to make it as pleasant experience as possible. They were so respectful and the color guard did an outstanding job."
Forwalder's father, Mel, an army veteran, was also very impressed by the ceremony.
"I was really impressed with the number of students who viewed the ceremony and appreciated their attention," he said. "Everything was very well done and the comments by Mrs. Brown were very much appreciated, as was my conversation with the superintendent, Jeff Miller. The ROTC color guard did an outstanding job with the flag raising and presenting the flowers to my wife".
His brother said, "the school, staff, and feedback on Facebook really touched our hearts.It was a true blessing for us to see how many hearts Bob touched and that they still remember him."
The Courtyard Veteran's Memorial Garden was instituted to honor those Green alumni who have died while serving their country. Anyone interested in having a plaque placed in the garden in a veteran's honor can contact Brown at 330-896-7575 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge for the plaques.