CINCINNATI (AP) - A red-haired boy and his little cousin tugged on either side of the sheet in unison, pulling it down to uncover a new highway sign.
As people clapped, the boy grinned and waved his hand, drawing more applause. He waved again, to the delight of the overflow crowd in the Miami Township Community Center.
"He's a ham," said Chrystina Kreuter, smiling at her 7-year-old son, Christian. "Just like his dad."
The Sgt. David Kreuter Memorial Highway on a stretch of state Route 264 running through his home township west of Cincinnati honors the father that Christian never got the chance to know. David was among 14 U.S. Marines - most of them in the Columbus-based Lima Company - killed Aug. 3, 2005, by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Christian had been born less than two months earlier; David saw him only in photos and heard his infant son breathing over the phone before his death at age 26.
"I think this really lets Christian get to be involved and relate to his dad in a way he was never able to," Kreuter's widow said after the April 27 dedication ceremonies.
Such roadway reminders of Ohio's fallen troops are becoming increasing popular as memorial tributes. Nearly 150 have been approved by legislators in the last five years, with the number topping 50 last year alone. Legislators say the bills are simple but important ways to recognize and remember the sacrifices Ohioans have made, and they have had strong support in the Statehouse.
"I think it's critical to do these things," said state Rep. Louis Terhar, R-Cincinnati, who promoted the Kreuter highway bill. "One, they draw the community together after a loss. And it reinforces for people that we enjoy something that someone else has paid a high price for."
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Eric Flanagan said that he wasn't sure how common the practice is elsewhere but that such dedications of highways, bridges and other everyday structures are tributes that augment annual Memorial Day observances.
"Giving one's life in defense of the country, whether at home or abroad, deserves to be remembered," Flanagan said.
"We hope that as people pass those signs, it causes them to think a little bit about those who left this country to protect our freedoms," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said during March 29 sign dedications in Butler County for Army Cpl. Nicholas Olivas and Staff Sgt. Robert Massarelli. They died last year in Afghanistan.
Slain law enforcement officers have also been honored with highway signs. A May 10 ceremony will dedicate the Sgt. Brian Dulle Memorial Highway on U.S. 42 between Lebanon and Waynesville in southwest Ohio. Dulle, an Army veteran, was a Warren County sheriff's deputy killed in 2011 while trying to stop a fleeing driver in a high-speed chase.
Each sign costs some $70 to make, with a sign needed in each direction on the roads, the Ohio Department of Transportation said. Spokesman Steve Faulkner said he's not aware of any criticism of the program. He said there have been 14 new highway designations proposed in legislation so far this year.
Speaking to the township gathering at the Kreuter dedication, the fallen sergeant's father, Ken Kreuter, said: "Every day, the signs will be there. Every day, a constant reminder."
Kreuter's family also gives memorial scholarship awards funded with the help of an annual golf tournament. His father said they are very appreciative of the highway designation.
"It's really a big deal," he said. "It represents something for David and the family, but in a greater sense, it also represents something for the community. This is a constant reminder that this kid is from here. He grew up in this neighborhood. It is a reminder that people here have served and died."
The roadway tributes are small salves for the pain of families who have lost loved ones, but they become part of the memories they hold onto.
"There's a very keen sense of loss," Kreuter said. "But far better that we have it like this, than everything just go away."