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School grants Marine’s last wish

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — One of Marine Lance Cpl. Bradley Michael Faircloth's last wishes before his death in Iraq will be granted when a half-ton bronze panther is placed outside Murphy High School.

Awarded three Purple Hearts, Faircloth's battlefield death on Thanksgiving Day in 2004 fueled contributions into a fund for a sculpture of the school mascot — a 2002 class project during his senior year.

Now it's completed. An unveiling ceremony is set for April 14.

For Faircloth, 20, his football buddies were his family, said Kathleen Faircloth-Smith, the Marine's mother.

His coach, Bobby Curtis, now retired, said Thursday that he was scared to hear that Faircloth was going to Iraq because he knew Faircloth would be "out front" in battle, just as he had been on the playing field.

"He worked hard at practice and always gave 100 percent," Curtis said, displaying an engraved team spirit award that hangs in the field house. The award bears Faircloth's name.

After graduation, Faircloth spent a year on a partial scholarship at Delta State University in Mississippi before joining the Marines.

Faircloth's mother has been busy writing invitations for the ceremony to unveil the 8-foot-long, 4-foot-high bronze sculpted by Cory Swindle of Fairhope.

Swindle said the panther, cast in his Barnwell studio in rural Baldwin County, is his biggest project. He said it's "sleek and mean-looking."

It's not a memorial to Faircloth, but his death accelerated the campaign that raised $35,000 to complete it, Murphy principal Doug Estle said. The unveiling also marks the high school's 80th anniversary.

A mix of patriotism and school spirit are expected to dominate the ceremony conducted by students. The Class of 2002 raised $1,000 to kick off the panther project, which caught on with all the 2,500 students enrolled. Some pitched in with car-washes to make it a reality.

"I'm sure it's going to heighten spirits for football and basketball," said senior Shawanda Amos, checking out the excavated site on Murphy's front median where the panther will stand on a pedestal, illuminated by landscape lighting.

A classmate, junior Urcell Crawford, said the panther will become a place for students to rally.

"They usually gather by the flagpole," he said.

Faircloth's mother hopes some members of her son's Marine unit can come to Mobile for the unveiling. Stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., Faircloth was a member of the First Battalion, 8th Marines, Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon.

"I know God has given me a supernatural grace to get through all this. I'm turning the page knowing that panther's going up," she said.

On Nov. 16, 2004, Faircloth was wounded in the face, then a week later in the leg before his death in Fallujah on Thanksgiving Day. He was awarded three Purple Hearts for his injuries and death.

"On Bradley's last week in Mobile, before he left, he said if anything happens to me make sure that panther gets in at Murphy," his mother said.

A friend has written a song, titled "Jersey 44" for Faircloth's football number, recorded it in Nashville and offered to perform it at the ceremony.

Faircloth-Smith, who works at a catering business, said she's "totally surprised" that people still think about her son over a year after his death.

"I've gotten letters from all over the country. I still get e-mails from people," she said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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