CONOVER, N.C. – United States Marine Lance Corporal Erik Heldt was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when an improvised explosive device took his life on June 16, 2005.
His captain, 36-year-old John Maloney, also lost his life in the tragic incident that took place near Ar Ramadi as they conducted combat operations.
So much life left to live was taken away just like that. Heldt, a native of Hermann, Missouri, had coached grade school football for years. He played basketball, but it was football that he truly loved.
In less than a month, it will have been ten years since that terrible day. Daughter Taylor was just seven years old when her dad died, one of an estimated 1.4 military dependents “adversely affected” by multiple deployments.
Heldt has not been forgotten and Taylor has not been left behind thanks to the Folds of Honor Military Tribute Program. Created in 2007 by Dan Rooney, a former F-16 pilot who did three tours of duty in Iraq, the organization provides scholarships to spouses, children and loved ones of soldiers killed or disabled.
One of the ways in which Folds of Honor raises money is through its collegiate golf efforts, which provides teams the opportunity to carry a specially designed bag with the name, rank and branch of service of a soldier being honored. That’s how Heldt came to be forever connected to this year’s Missouri-St. Louis Tritons men’s golf team.
Growing up in Oklahoma together, head coach Troy Halterman was a high school teammate of Rooney’s and then played golf against each other in college. That was the initial connection between Folds of Honor and Missouri-St. Louis.
“It close to me because of Major Dan Rooney being such a good friend of mine,” Halterman said. “Here’s a guy who has everything. He’s gone to college, played college golf and helped his family run their golf course, and yet he felt the drive and the commitment to go and serve. He inspires me because he was willing to pass all that up and go serve.”
Since Heldt was from the area, it seemed only fitting that he be the one the Tritons honor with their Folds of Honor golf bag.
“Taylor and her grandmother came in at the start of the school year in September and actually sat down with the team and told the story about Erik,” Halterman said. “What kind of person he was, who he was, what kind of person he was. That was important to the guys to have a good understanding of who this person was that they’re carrying the name of. I can tell you that there was definitely not a dry eye in the room. It’s something we take very serious with the bag.”
Rather than auctioning off the bag at the end of the season as other programs have done, Missouri-St. Louis plans instead to present it to Taylor and simply make a donation to Folds of Honor. In honoring Taylor and her father, Halterman has also come to a new understanding and perspective on the game of golf.
It’s not life.
“It’s easy to forget,” Halterman said. “We get caught up in our own individual world. In this case, it’s college golf and think what we’re doing is very, very important on the golf course. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not. It’s something we love to do, but there are people out there who are facing much harder situations.
“Carrying this bag and bringing awareness to this helps remind people what the soldiers are actually doing for us, to be a little more thankful for the opportunity they provide to us. That makes me feel like we’ve done something positive. We haven’t forgotten Erik. I still want people to remember what he did for us.”
Even more importantly, Halterman wants Taylor to know that her sacrifice is not forgotten.
“We want to make sure the daughter he left behind know that people still care, and the kind of guy her dad was,” Halterman continued. “We want to help her and people like her. It’s just a very worthwhile organization.”