Cross Tribute Began Years Ago
Around sixteen years ago, beautiful crosses appeared on Memorial Day. The white wooden crosses listed soldier’s names who were killed in the line of duty and the war they were killed in. They lined North and East Main Streets and each one had a small American flag.
It was a powerful tribute to so many who had died so valiantly defending our freedom. I remember being moved by the beauty of this tribute and the sheer number of crosses. I had no idea who originally came up with this idea and went to all of this trouble and expense to compile the list of fallen soldiers, construct the crosses and then place them so beautifully.
This was especially special to our family, because one of the crosses was in memory of my wife Lori’s Great Uncle, John Gilbert Woodward who was killed in May of 1944 on a training flight during World War II.
Like many wonderful things in our community, the crosses just appeared. Most of us give little thought to why, how or who took on this massive project. Every Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day until 2008 the crosses magically appeared. Then it stopped.
Crosses Disappeared for Seven Years
For seven years, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day came and went, without the crosses. We began asking around to see if anyone knew who did this and why they stopped. We learned that the project was led by then Statesboro Fire Chief Joe Beasley and the late Deputy Chief Herman Akins. The Statesboro Firefighters took this project on with honor and pride. They made all the crosses by hand, lettered them and dutifully installed them, removed them and stored them.
As time marched on, all of the leaders involved in this project moved on. Chief Beasley and Deputy Chief Akins retired. With the change of leadership, the installation of the crosses failed to become a priority.
Once we discovered this history, we began making calls to see if anyone knew where the crosses may be stored. We couldn’t imagine them being disposed of. We reached out to everyone in the city that we thought would have knowledge of where the crosses may be. Even the local veteran’s organizations had no idea what had happened to the crosses. No one seemed to know anything about them. The search continued for nearly three years.
On Memorial Day, in 2014, I wrote a story in the Statesboro Herald seeking information on the crosses. Still nothing. Then I took to social media with a plea for the crosses. It was shared hundreds of times. Late one evening, I received a message from Bobby Duggar, Deputy Chief with the Statesboro Fire Department. Bobby remembered the crosses and had been involved in the project. He had left the fire department for several years and had rejoined the department a few years ago.
Crosses Found and Restored
This became a personal mission for SFD Division Chief Duggar. He began reaching out to former firemen and through them, in the very back of a city warehouse, they rediscovered the crosses a little before Memorial Day last year. They put the crosses up on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. However, there were several soldiers that had died who did not have crosses and many of the crosses were in very bad shape.
Bobby reached out for help in getting an updated complete list of fallen soldiers and to see if there was interest in the community to help them rebuild the crosses. We reached out to Virginia Ann Waters with the Bulloch Historical Society and Dr. Brent Tharp with the GSU Museum for support. Both enthusiastically agreed to help. Brent provided an accurate and current list of fallen soldiers from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Global War on Terror.
The Bulloch County Historical Society provided financial support for the project to purchase materials to rebuild the crosses. In addition, Whitfield Signs agreed to letter each cross as a donation and Woodman of the World donated new American flags to go on the top of each cross.
“This has been a wonderful project and a perfect way for the Statesboro Fire Department to give back to the community. It has been great seeing how the community has rallied around us to support this effort. Every firefighter has taken great pride in this project and we have enjoyed being part of this”, said Bobby Duggar, Deputy Chief, SFD. “Assistant Chief Jason Baker helped oversee the project this year and Ben Edwards, Firefighter, Anthony Lefebvre, FAO, Fallen Brown, Inspector, and Carlos Nevarez, FAO assisted with the installation . I am proud that we have all worked together as a department to restore the crosses and continue this tradition.”
The firefighters didn’t just bring the crosses back. They have remade each cross by hand and installed the crosses so they are now displayed alphabetically, by war. They also are working on other ideas for the future to recognize all Veterans.
It is so wonderful that all the families who lost loved ones, will again see their ultimate sacrifice honored and memorialized in such wonderful way. When you see one of our local firefighters out in the community thank them for their efforts in restoring this special project with dignity and pride. More importantly, take this time to thank the men and women in our community who have served and continue to serve our country through the armed forces. These crosses and this holiday remind us all that Freedom isn’t Free.