The 2003 Monroeville High School graduate was 19 when he died Sept. 8, 2004 during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. He had been in the U.S. Army only for about seven months and was in Iraq a week before he died.
Jason’s platoon leader was a year older. They were serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, and training in Kuwait, a staging area for many troops headed to Iraq.
“His platoon leader came to our house,” said Jason’s mother, Lisa. “He was here in school in Kentucky and he called and asked if he could come to our house. He wanted to talk to us. He already had seen (my husband) Scott. He wanted to come and get my forgiveness because he felt guilty.
“He was leading the troops and he was the one (who) led them down the wrong way. I have never seen a young man cry so hard in my entire life and he wanted my forgiveness,” she said. “He was leading a bunch of men and service members to do what they had to do.”
Photos of Jason Sparks and other deceased members of the military will be on display at the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit. The photo memorial will be at the Monroeville Athletic Complex from Aug. 17 through 19.
“He went in (the Army) in February of 2004 and then of course was killed on the eighth of September in 2004,” said his father, Scott.
The Sparks family was asked what it means to have Jason honored in the traveling exhibit in the village which held parade-like funeral processional.
“It’s special; it’s healing of course. You get to see his picture up there,” said his father, Scott, who became momentarily choked up.
Scott said seeing the photo exhibit makes you realize how many other people have lost loved ones, too.
“You realize you’re not alone in the whole thing,” he added. “The exhibit is really cool; you get to see a personal side of them. You see a military picture and then you see a personal picture.”
Jason’s younger sister, Sarah, agreed that seeing her brother’s photos on the exhibit is special.
“It helps with the relationships you build,” she said, noting that Heather Martin submitted her brother John’s information to be included on the memorial. “Hopefully he’ll be on there when it comes (to Monroeville).
“I built a really good relationship with Heather because her brother died and my brother died and it really helps to have those relationships because, like Dad said, it reminds you that you’re not alone,” Sarah said.
“There are so many times when you feel like you are. It’s really nice to have that support system,” said Jason’s sister, who is pleased to know loved ones of fallen soldiers can come and see the memorial.
The Sparks family shared some memories about Jason.
“He was a blast. He was fun to have around. He made you laugh. He was goofy — just like any other kid,” his mother said.
“But yet family was very important to him. He was fortunate enough to grow up with some great-grandparents and not many kids can say that. Family was a big part of Jason’s life.”
His father’s 35 years in the U.S. Air Force was a deciding factor for Jason to serve his country.
“He originally was going to go (in) the Air Force, but he didn’t meet the weight criteria. At the time he was dating a young woman who had signed up on delayed enlistment in the Army. She was a senior in high school and they got to talking and he chose the Army,” his mother said.
“He originally was talking service before that. I think he was like any other 18-, 19-year-old kid (who) really didn’t know what they wanted to do for sure.”
Scott Sparks, who retired last year from the Air Force, remembered the texts he and his son shared as Jason was deciding to go into the military.
“I was actually in Kuwait when he was texting back and forth. ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this and the Army.’ There (were) a lot of people who (said), ‘Why didn’t you talk him out of it?’ I was 18 once and nobody else could tell me anything,” he said. “He wanted to know the pros and cons. I told him there are pros and cons to each service.
“He was determined; he was going to serve his country,” the father added. “He was just a good, all-around American, small-town boy.”
Sarah remembered her older brother wanted to help people.
“The way I interpret it — even though I was so young — is I know Jason loved helping people,” she said, recalling how they heard about how their father helped others overseas.
“I think that helped in Jason’s decision because that’s somewhere to start,” Sarah added. “When you hear these stories growing up, you want to help people.”