Sgt. Marshall H. Edgerton was 7 years old when his grandfather picked him up early from school in December 2003.
That wasn’t necessarily odd, because at the time, the now 23-year-old paratrooper’s father was serving in Iraq. And for six months before that, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Me and my mom and sister had moved back to Tennessee, because right on my dad’s arrival back from deployment, he was getting out. His ETS was coming up," Edgerton recalled during a telephone interview with Army Times.
“I got called out of school and I got in the car and there was my mom and her mom and dad, my grandparents,” he added. “They were crying and no one was really saying anything.”
After picking up his uncle, the family explained what happened. His father, then-Spc. Marshall L. Edgerton, had been killed in action Dec. 11 while pulling guard duty at Camp Ar Ramadi, Iraq.
“I was 7, so I understood — but at the same time I didn’t,” the son said.
At the time of his death, the father of two was assigned to a signal battalion within the 82nd Airborne Division.
Almost 16 years later, Edgerton was serving in his father’s old division when he received an email from Fort Gordon officials in Georgia. The post was naming a new barracks for signal corps students after his father on the anniversary of his death, and they wanted the Edgerton family at the Dec. 11 dedication ceremony.
News reports from the early 2000s and a pamphlet passed around at the ceremony detail the elder Edgerton’s final moments.
Suicide bombers had approached the base west of Baghdad in a furniture truck hiding an improvised explosive device in the gas tank. After it was waived through the gate, the 27-year-old father offered to escort the truck onto the compound, taking the place of another soldier who needed to grab lunch.
Fellow paratroopers heard Edgerton shouting to warn others just prior to a massive blast rigged from several 100-pound artillery shells. He was the only fatality, but soldiers with him that day said that had he not noticed something was wrong, the truck could have made it to the chow hall where soldiers were busy eating their noon meal.
Edgerton posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for his actions.
Years later, his son enlisted, too. Attending jump school like his father was always the goal, said Edgerton, who recalled watching his father jump out at Sicily Drop Zone, near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“That was my focus. Walking into the recruiter’s office, I was like ‘Hey, I don’t care what job it is, I want an Airborne contract,’” he explained. “And then I got to Airborne School and it was probably the most nervous week of my life. This is what I had been thinking about since I was 5, 6, 7 years old. I am actually doing it now."
The dedication ceremony took place Wednesday on Fort Gordon. Edgerton brought his wife and daughter to the event, and his mother and sister also attended.
The ceremony was important for another reason, though. It offered a long awaited chance for Edgerton to reconnect with his father’s old battle buddies.
“I keep in touch with all the guys who worked with my dad and I ran into a lot who are still in the military, and a lot are coming down, too,” Edgerton said as he was in transit to the dedication ceremony earlier this week.
It will be the first time since the 10-year anniversary of father’s death that Edgerton has seen many of those friends of his father.
“Not only is it good in the sense that they’re memorializing him, but it’s also kind of an opportunity for a lot of those guys to come in and we’re all going to catch up,” he added. “This kind of facilitated it in a way.”
Edgerton, who currently serves as a signal support systems specialist, wants to make the Army his career. He has even been contemplating putting an application in to become a warrant officer.
Edgerton Barracks is part of a series of construction projects underway as part of a Fort Gordon modernization push, officials there said.
The new barracks will be the largest company and barracks facility on Fort Gordon, according to Col. John T. Batson, commander of the brigade that will use the complex. It will consist of 300 rooms and will house 900 soldiers attending advanced individual training in signal specialties, Batson said.
For Edgerton, the new barracks stands as a memorial to his father, but also as a lesson and reminder to future signal corps soldiers as they enter the Army.
“All the new soldiers coming into the signal corps and getting that training, they’re going to see that when they walk in every day,” he said. “I think it’s awesome.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.