A 10-mile highway in Big Bear Lake now bears the name of University of La Verne alumnus Lt. Jared Landaker, as a way of permanently memorializing the sacrifices made by this fallen Marine.
The dedication ceremony on Highway 38 took place on May 2 at the Big Bear Discovery Center and drew an overwhelming support of more than 200 people, including copious municipal personalities.
Timing placed a unique spin on the tribute, as Lt. Landaker would have turned 27 years old just a day before the signs in his honor were erected.
“Your eyes just get attached. We’re really pleased with the location,” said Joe Landaker, Jared’s father.
More than a year has passed since Lt. Landaker’s CH-46 medical evacuations helicopter was shot down by a probable surface-to-air missile over the Al Anbar province outside Baghdad, killing the pilot and six other servicemen and women.
Since his passing, congressional work was underway to stabilize the tribute, and a nonprofit organization formed to raise more than $2,000 needed for the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, to produce two signs to stand at the ends of the Big Bear highway stretch.
“Anyone who goes up to Big Bear, even people who didn’t know who he was, will look at it. Maybe they’ll go home and research who he was,” said First Lt. Matthew Jackson, a pilot in the California National Guard.
Jackson was a close friend of Landaker and a 2002 ULV alumnus.
The signs are posted on a main stretch in Big Bear. Visitors can see one of the signs at the end of a curve in the eastbound lane.
“Once the resolution was brought up and the money was raised to get Caltrans to get it done, I can’t think of a better living tribute for him,” Jackson said.
Lt. Landaker’s actions and words used to describe him by those who knew and loved him together stand as an unmatched testimony of the depth and greatness of his character.
“The dedication is a representation of Jared: his courage, his service to his country and people that live under its flag,” said Scott Winterburn, associate professor of movement and sports science and head baseball coach.
“I think it is a tribute to what these guys do. They put their lives in tremendous peril for the freedoms we literally enjoy,” Winterburn said.
As a ULV student and baseball player in the wake of Sept. 11, Lt. Landaker made a proactive choice to join the Marine Corps between his junior and senior year.
He personally saved 95 lives while serving on medical evacuation runs to pick up critically wounded Marines and worked to air lift Iraqi civilians to safety.
“He was a life saver. They waited for the bell to go off and save people,” Jackson said. “It was his last flight before he was scheduled to come home and attend a weapons and tactics course in Arizona.”
While the physical aspects of life make a sound impression, it is the intangibles that truly permeate one’s heart.
The warmth of Lt. Landaker’s spirit and memory has given family and friends the hope to know absence strengthens love, while presence sharpens it.
Not only does the highway dedication serve as a permanent symbol of Landaker’s courage, but he has another new tangible tribute to reflect his mark on those he left behind.
Amy and Matthew Jackson were not sure of the gender of their baby until his birth last July, and easily named him Jared, in honor of Lt. Landaker.
“I hope that I can raise my son to be half the man Jared was,” Jackson said.
Tiffany Vlaanderen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.