Nearly five years after making the ultimate sacrifice for his country, U.S. Navy Corpsman Aaron D. Ullom was remembered Saturday by his friends, family and local legislators at a bridge dedication ceremony that will leave his name and memory above a busy thoroughfare in his hometown.
A crowd gathered at the Midland Armory at 2 p.m. Saturday to hear from those who knew and loved Ullom from his early years and from his time in the service. Ullom was a 2009 Midland High School graduate, who joined the U.S. Navy and was killed by enemy gunfire on July 12, 2011 while in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
It was a simple action on Ullom’s behalf, a natural instinct to leave the safety of a small ditch to apply a tourniquet to a wounded Marine nearby, but an action that has left a tremendous impact on his community and now a permanent fixture in Midland. Gov. Rick Snyder signed Senate Bill 513, now Public Act 21 of 2016, in February to designate the bridge in recognition of Ullom.
During the ceremony, State Sen. Jim Stamas said he was proud to call Ullom “one of our own,” and to have helped his family with the bridge dedication which serves as a “permanent reminder of a native son who gave his all.”
A prayer was said, and military servicemen shared their stories of Ullom, including his best friend Keith Adams, who serves as a Hospital Corpsman, second class in the U.S. Navy and traveled from California to be with Ullom’s family for the dedication ceremony. Adams read a short speech from his phone, pausing at times and hugging Ullom’s father, mother and brother at the end.
“I didn’t realize today would be so hard for me,” said Sean Bartley, Ullom’s brother. “A hero isn’t a superhero; it isn’t Spiderman, it isn’t Superman. My brother is my hero.”
He reminded the crowd that the ceremony wasn’t just about a bridge, but a way to remember Ullom and the heroic action he took that day in 2011.
“This bridge is something that will be here forever for us, and not us, his family, but everyone,” Bartley said.
It is that impact that people may not realize, said Rep. Gary Glenn, who spoke at the ceremony.
“Families serve and sacrifice when they have loved ones in harm’s way,” said Glenn, adding that he has been privileged to meet Ullom’s family and encounter their strength and grace.
Ullom’s father Kevin credited his wife and her strength that has kept him going through the years. The family started a program called “Aaron’s Gifts From Home,” which enlists volunteers to create care packages for Midland soldiers.
“Aaron’s a hero but Debi’s mine, too,” he told the crowd. “Our family has been through a lot but I think we’ve grown stronger because of it.”
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of a brown sign declaring the bridge on U.S. 10 over Eastman Avenue as the “Corpsman Aaron D Ullom Memorial Bridge” and with the send-off of red, white and blue balloons that drifted over the highway into the blue sky and the sunshine beyond.