Gene Sutton, left, accepts a commemorative cross presented by Marine Sgt. Irvin Stalls during a special ceremony at the Albany Mall. Sutton’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton, was killed in Afghanistan in 2012. Sutton said he would ask the city of Leesburg for permission to place the cross at the Steve Sutton memorial near the county courthouse. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — During this week of observances of 9/11, a plot of 146 simple white crosses adorned the lawn of the Albany Mall. Around them a sea of American flags fluttered in the wind.
Each cross was there to honor a particular Dougherty or Lee County veteran who had fallen in service to the country from World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of Albany VFW post 2785 and Bill Brooks, maker and originator of the crosses, were there to make a special presentation.
Gene Sutton of Leesburg was given a commemorative cross with a special Marine medallion in memory and appreciation of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton, killed in Afghanistan. While Steve Sutton is also remembered with a cross among the other 145, this one was for Gene Sutton to place wherever he chooses for his personal remembrance of his son, said James “Rusty” Rogers, past state commander, VFW post 2785.
“Steve has a memorial there in front of the Courthouse in Lee County,” Gene Sutton said. “I’m going to ask the city if I can put it there to remember him by. This is awesome. I miss my son. I still haven’t gotten over it, but life’s got to go on and I appreciate everything that people have done for me.”
Memorial Day was the last time the crosses were brought out, according to Brooks, and for that occasion only servicemen from Dougherty County were represented.
“I felt bad about it,” Brooks said. “The markers were done to show respect for the veterans who sacrificed their lives and also to show the family, to signify that not only did the veteran sacrifice but the family did as well.”
According to Brooks, 24 new crosses have come about through research and the addition of Lee County veterans honored. Brooks said the Sutton marker is special by its authentic Marine Crops medallion, donated by a living veteran of the Pacific Theater in World War II — Brook’s 90-year-old father, Ray Sutton.
“We hope to enlarge the background information on area veterans,” Bill Brooks said. “We’d like to get school kids involved with picking out specific names and finding that information and coming up with a booklet on each name. There’s lots of interesting things that people would find, if they would take the time to research. It’s mind-boggling.”
In fact, Brooks said that among Tuesday’s crosses appeared the name of a Medal of Honor winner from Albany, Clyde Thomason. According to Brooks, Thomason was already serving in the army when World War II broke out, at which time he promptly joined the U.S. Marines. Thomason’s cross includes a Medal of Honor replica.
Further research at arlingtoncemetary.net shows that Thomason was the very first enlisted recipient of the Medal during World War II, receiving the honor posthumously after leading a raid against the Japanese on Makin Atoll, August 1942. His body was not recovered until 1999 when it was discovered with 18 other raiding party members. According to the site, Thomason’s remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.