Members of the Albany Marine Corps League join veterans, citizens and area officials for a dedication ceremony to rename U.S. Highway 19 throughout Lee County to Veterans Memorial Highway. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
Veterans Memorial Highway Dedication Ceremony
State Reps. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, and Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, join officials from Lee County, Leesburg and Smithville in a ceremony renaming U.S. Highway 19 in Lee County, Veterans Memorial Highway.
LEESBURG — To honor the area’s veterans and remind motorists of the many sacrifices made by men and women who have served in the United States military, the stretch of U.S. Highway 19 that runs the length of Lee County is now formally known as Veterans Memorial Highway.
Members of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, Leesburg City Council and Smithville City Council joined state Reps. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, and Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, along with a host of citizens and veterans at a ceremony Tuesday dedicating the renamed highway.
Mobile users go here to see the video.
“It’s a gateway of remembrance,” said Lee County Commissioner Greg Frich. “Every time we drive along it, we’re going to be reminded of the sacrifices so many men and women have made for our country. Specifically, we have service men and women who live here in our community and, maybe even more to the point, we have men who have given their lives in support of this nation.”
It was the death of Lee County resident Marine Lance Cpl. Steven G. Sutton, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2012, that sparked the discussions that led to the renaming of the highway.
City and county officials had originally considered a joint resolution to honor Sutton with the highway dedication last October, but over the course of the next several months the idea blossomed into one that would honor all of the county’s veterans.
“This highway is for all them, every one of them,” said Frich. “But make no mistake, the 22 men who have given their lives for our country, from Lee County, Leesburg, Smithville, that we know of, those names could very well have been lost in obscurity if it had not been for the sacrifice of one man, Lance Cpl. Steven Sutton. We would not be here today for a couple of reasons. No. 1, he fought with his life for our freedoms and two, by his sacrifice nearly two years ago in Afghanistan this community remembered the high cost of liberty. It was that which cauterized this community and caused us to remember the sacrifice and pledge that we would not only be a community that remembers, but a community that does.”
The renaming of the highway, while approved locally in December, still required approval at the state level. Rynders, who had vowed to help get the change made, ultimately called on Roberts, the acting chairman of the House Transportation Committee, to help him get the necessary approvals to make the new highway a reality.
Roberts, who represents House District 155 and whose uncle was a World War II veteran, said he relished the opportunity to be a part of something to remember and honor military veterans.
“I will tell you that as chairman, I don’t attend very many of these road dedications,” said Roberts. “The first reason is Ed Rynders; you should be proud that you have him up there representing you. The second reason is because this is a dedication to our veterans. My uncle was a World War II veteran, and he was my hero. It is because of you who have served before and those that are serving today, those who made that ultimate sacrifice, that we have our freedoms. That is something that is special to me.”
Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge, who read a resolution officially renaming the highway, thanked those in attendance and said he was pleased that officials could work together and honor area veterans.
“It is a day that is a long time coming, but it is never, never too late to do the right thing,” said Muggridge. “We’re going to rename the highway that runs through the very heart of Lee County, from the north border to the south border, we’re going to rename it for our heroes.”
While the renaming is in honor of veterans, U.S. Highway 19 will continue to be the thoroughfare’s primary name, and no address changes will be required.