In remembrance of those 42 service men and women, a memorial wall bearing their faces, names, ranks and the date and location of their deaths was dedicated Wednesday.
Family members of the fallen Guardsmen in attendance were glad to see their loved ones honored.
Sgt. Jeffrey W. Jordan was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009 — on the day of his son’s first birthday.
His wife, Lacey Jordan of Calhoun, brought their now six-year-old son, Tailor, to the ceremony so he could see his dad.
“Personally, it’s outstanding. Words cannot describe how amazing it is to have people around us caring about our soldiers and our families,” she said. “To be able to come here and let my son see his daddy’s picture on the wall, showing that his daddy was a hero, is just amazing. It’s just incredible.”
Sgt. Paul A. Saylor was killed in action in Iraq in 2005. His aunt, Dottie Callina of Morrow, described the last time she saw her nephew.
“He was home on leave, and he asked me to cook his favorite spaghetti sauce that only I make. On a Tuesday night, I hugged him. And six days later, we got the news that he had died,” she said.
Callina said the sudden loss shook their family, but through faith and the strength of Saylor’s mother, Patty, they began to try to live their lives the way Saylor would have wanted them to. Their family is thankful Saylor is being honored on the memorial, she said.
“If (somebody) that (didn’t know) Paul just gets a chance to go up and see his face and just know his name for 10 or 15 seconds, that means so much to families of the fallen because then they get to know Paul,” she said.
“Maybe somebody will come up and see him and say, you know, he was a hero, but he was a person, too.”
A long march for the fallen
During the ceremony, each of the 42 names were read aloud. As their names rang out over the crowd, a member of the Georgia National Guard poured soil taken from the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton in front of the memorial.
The soil was carried, by hand, by 28 members of the Georgia National Guard, who marched from the cemetery in Canton to the memorial in Marietta over about 48 hours. First Sgt. Jason York of Dallas organized the march.
“It’s approximately 42 miles from the Georgia National Cemetery to here, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be neat if we had volunteers to march 42 miles — one mile for each soldier,’” York said. “That developed into ‘What if we brought soil from the cemetery and sprinkled it on our wall to actually make it a reverent wall, to make it a peaceful wall, to make it hallowed ground?”
And so they marched, he said. After each mile, the person in front would turn and say the name of one of the fallen National Guard members and the rest of the marchers would echo the name back. York was one of the marchers and said the experience was humbling, but painful at times.
Still, York said he was glad to make the march to honor the families of the fallen and to help make Georgians aware of the loss of 42 citizen soldiers, four of whom he knew personally.
“Now when I say citizens, that means … they were firemen. They were cops. They were mechanics. They were grocery store workers. They were citizens. And they volunteered and went to war and paid the ultimate sacrifice for you and I to have freedom and enjoy what we enjoy today. So I was looking for a way to pay homage to them and really do something unique for them and their families.”
Building the wall
The memorial was built by the Freedom Calls Memorial Foundation, in partnership with the Georgia National Guard. The chairman of the foundation, retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Nelson Jr., described how the memorial came to be.
“It (became) an idea on a trip back to Iraq that I made along with the former Adjutant General, (Maj.) Gen. (William) Nesbitt, back in 2011. And we started talking about the possibility of having a memorial wall here,” he said.
So in 2012, Nelson founded the Freedom Calls Memorial Foundation to get the memorial built.
It was difficult at first, he said, because the families of those killed in action initially didn’t want to be involved.
“Because the memory was so bad for them, you know, they were a little reluctant,” Nelson said. “But eventually, we got together in the first part of 2012 and was able to actually come up with a board of charter members and petition the IRS for 501(c)3 about mid-2012.”
After retiring from the Georgia National Guard in 2012, Nelson helped usher the project to completion. The wall itself was paid for from donations to the foundation, but the grounds were landscaped by Home Depot, which donated materials and time to help the memorial become what it is today, he said.
Nelson said he was in combat with 26 of the 42 Guardsmen memorialized on the wall, so the dedication was especially meaningful.
“Every time I do get close back to it; it does bring about those emotions because, you know, I was at the hospital when some of them died (and) saw some of them on the way. So, it’s a lot of stuff involved here for me that I don’t talk about.”
Still, the memorial is for the families of the fallen, Nelson said, so they will know their loved ones will be remembered.
“It’s really all about the family at this point in time — what is it that we can do to give them some peace and a place that their loved ones won’t be forgotten. You know, we all have our personal relationships with these soldiers. That is what it is. That’s just part of being a soldier. But the families are the ones more affected by it.”
Nelson said the memorial is not yet complete. The foundation plans on adding a minuteman statue, more benches and additional landscaping features. For information about how to help the foundation improve and maintain the memorial, visit freedomcallsmemorialfoundation.org.