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Gov. Bob Riley, right, in front of a memorial to Alabama's fallen service members, with Clifton Johnson III, after a ceremony Tuesday in the state Capitol in Montgomery. Johnson's son, Clifton D. Johnson, died in Aug. 7.
AP photo by Mickey Welsh
Gov. Bob Riley, right, in front of a memorial to Alabama's fallen service members, with Clifton Johnson III, after a ceremony Tuesday in the state Capitol in Montgomery. Johnson's son, Clifton D. Johnson, died in Aug. 7.

'Fallen soldiers' memorial includes handmade statue

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Hundreds gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to honor "fallen soldiers" from Alabama who died in military conflict since Sept. 11, 2001.

Soldiers in Revolutionary War uniforms, U.S. service members in uniform, Vietnam-era veterans in motorcycle gear and family members joined Gov. Bob Riley at the ceremony opening the "War on Terror" memorial.

The memorial will stand in the old state Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol.

The lighted memorial is 8 by 10 feet. It includes the names and photographs of Alabama soldiers and CIA members killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and in Iraq and Afghanistan since then.

Also part of the memorial is a handmade statue comprising military paraphernalia that one Vietnam-era veteran put together.

Jim "Dinky Dau" Lorenzo, who made the statue, is a past Alabama state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. About 150 members of the motorcycle-riding group of military veterans attended the ceremony.

The multi-state group organized to attend funerals of fallen soldiers, support families and shield them if there are protesters at funerals.

Lorenzo said his idea for the statue came about as Alabamians began dying in the war and the U.S. Army would not let him sign up again for combat.

"A lot of us are from the Vietnam era," Lorenzo said. "We did not want anyone to come home to the negative welcome some soldiers did back then."

Symbolic statue

He put his symbolic statue together from typical military gear, including an automatic weapon as the body, a camouflage hard hat for the head, dog tags and boots.

The "gear soldier" sits on a base that lists the names of soldiers killed in the conflict from December 2005 to May 2007. As long as the base contained space for other names, Lorenzo drove around the state with it behind his motorcycle.

When there was no more room for names, Lorenzo presented it to Riley.

"It was like a baby, giving it up," Lorenzo said.

A similar replacement statue now travels behind Lorenzo's motorcycle. If another Alabamian dies in the war, he adds the name to the base. The new names are soldiers killed since May.

"It is almost filled up already," Lorenzo said.

At the ceremony, Riley recognized members of the military and their families.

"Any one of you who has ever lost someone close to you will feel that hole the rest of your life," Riley said. He called the dead soldiers new American heroes.

"There may be debate about the war and how we got into it," Riley said. "But the people who died shared a belief in their country.

"All of them were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America. They believed in their soul that America was worth fighting for and dying for.

"They sacrificed their dreams for ours."

In memoriam

Decatur-area military servicemen listed on the “War on Terror” memorial in Montgomery:

  • Jonathan L. Smith of Eva

  • Jon-Erik Loney of Hartselle

  • Adam E. Loggins of Athens

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