CARLTON FLETCHER: Lee County officials plan tribute to fallen heroes

OPINION: Veterans Memorial Highway to be named in honor of war fighters’ ultimate sacrifice

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

We can be heroes forever and ever. We can be heroes just for one day.

David Bowie

Jesse Brash, WWII … Earnest Carmen, WWII … James Chance, WWII … James Cooper, WWII … Tommie Davis, WWII … James Fairell, WWII … Frank Goodman, WWII … William Hart, WWII … Thomas Lamar, WWII … Frank Marchman Jr., WWII … Allen McFarlane, WWII … John Moody, WWII … Rufus Neeley, WWII … Herman Ricks, WWII … John Shaw, WWII … Reford Tefft, WWII … Haven Tootle, WWII … John Usry Jr., WWII … Henry Wiggins, WWII … James Young, WWII … Charlie Lee Burney, Vietnam … Steven Sutton, Operation Enduring Freedom …

Twenty-two names. Twenty-two lives.

All given in service to their country. All residents of Lee County.

Thanks to an ordinance passed by the Lee County Commission recently, a stretch of U.S. Highway 19 from Leesburg to Smithville will be named Veterans Memorial Highway, in honor of the men listed above and any others from the community who gave their lives while serving in their country’s military.

Lee Commissioner Greg Frich, a retired Marine, spearheaded efforts to recognize Lee County war fighters who made the ultimate sacrifice, and while Veterans Memorial Highway is a compromise name supported by the entire commission, Frich said it’s one all Lee Countians can easily live with.

“My original proposal was to name that stretch of highway Lance Cpl. Steven Sutton Memorial Highway (in honor of the Lee County Marine who perished in Afghanistan on May 26, 2012), but there was concern among commissioners that families of other veterans who had given their lives might feel slighted,” Frich said. “We reached a compromise that will honor Lance Cpl. Sutton and all others from our community who made the same sacrifice.

“That’s a compromise we all felt we could live with, and it passed with unanimous concent.”

The challenge for Frich and other Lee officials now is to find records of all county-born soldiers who died while serving their country. A search of the National Archives was a good starting place, one that yielded the 22 names listed above.

“We believe there are more,” Frich said. “Our initial search has given us a good list, but we’re hoping family members of others who were killed in service will come forward. Our American Legion post has committed to continuing the search, and we’re hoping others — Eagle Scout candidates, school groups — will take on a research project to help us try and find other names.”

Frich said that even though the final commission decision to honor all Lee County soldiers lost in combat was not his original concept, a desire to memorialize Sutton was instrumental in the tribute moving forward.

“Had it not been for Steve, none of this would be happening,” Frich said. “His sacrifice has given us the inspiration to reunite all of our fallen heroes with their community. He rescued all of our men who fought and died for their country from obscurity. They’re being sought out now. That’s another part of this one man’s lasting legacy.”

Frich said the county’s plan is to post a sign listing all local fallen heroes to accompany Veterans Memorial Highway markers. He said that when the county’s Verterans Park is better established, there is a push to erect a monument there in honor of the fallen.

“There are a lot of things we want to do,” Frich said. “But we could never do too much for these heroes — and their families — who have made such a tremendous sacrifice.”

Frich asked that anyone who had a family member die in service to the country during any conflict to contact him at (229) 886-8221.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.