Love County honored one of its own Wednesday morning, commemorating a bridge after one of its fallen.
A bridge over the South Branch Hickory Creek on U.S. Highway 77 was named the Lance Corporal Hatak-Yuka-Keyu Martin Yearby USMC Memorial Bridge. As family, friends, Choctaw Tribal officials, and state and local dignitaries looked on, two signs were unveiled at the bridge following a ceremony at Greeneville School. Yearby was killed in May 2006 while serving in Iraq.
"For me, it's a great honor," said Justin Yearby, Hatak's father. "What touches me more than anything else is the outpouring of the community, to see friends come out. A lot of Love Countians have come today. They took time out of their busy schedule to be with us today, and it is very special.
"Just by evidence of the people here, it shows the different aspects of his life and the way he lived."
Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) sponsored the bill, which resulted in the bridge being named after Yearby. Hardin said Laquitta Ladner contacted him about naming the bridge. The representative began the process in the House, and Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) carried it through the Senate.
Ladner, a resident of Jimtown and former substitute teacher of Yearby, said the thought came to her while driving through the county.
"I came across the new bridge, and I thought it would be a good idea," she said. "Hatak lived nearby and is buried nearby. I contacted the family to make sure it was okay, and talked to Tommy."
In remarks to family and friends of Yearby, Simpson said it was the second memorial dedication he had attended, but it was by no means one of his favorite duties.
"I would much rather be welcoming someone home," he said. Simpson also said the memorial would in no way replace the loss suffered by the family, but was hopeful it would help bring some closure, and he was there for the family.
Love County Commissioner Herschel "Bub" Peery proclaimed Wednesday Lance Corporal Hatak-Yuka-Keyu Martin Yearby day in the county on behalf of the commissioners. Also honoring the family was Choctaw Chief Gregory Pyle, and other tribal officials were in attendance along with the Choctaw Nation Color Guard.
Pyle talked about the sacrifices made by veterans in the pursuit of freedom, and thanked them for their service.
"To all the veterans and their families, we so much appreciate all that you have done and all that you do," Pyle said. Pyle said until the day comes when we don't have to fight, we would have heroes such as Yearby.
Justin Yearby, along with his wife Mary, also noted the contributions made by veterans, and welcomed three men who fought alongside his son in Iraq. Will Torres of Hemet, Calif.; SSGT Rodrigo Roman of Chicago; and John Amador of San Diego each took part in the unveiling of the sign.
"I came here to see the family once before for a powwow," Torres said. "To see everybody is a powerful experience."
The men were welcomed like family by Yearby, as they wore war blankets and were each given a blanket by Mary Yearby signifying their bond with the family.
"These young men you see here have earned their war blankets," Yearby said. "They made a choice to protect us, to take this fight to a foreign land knowing they may not come back.
"They served with Hatak. They stood close to him and they could touch him. When we stand close to them, it's as if we stand close to him."