Augusta cemetery honors vets with bronze statue

Thousands of flags adorn the graves of fallen heroes at Hillcrest Memorial Park every year, but flags are only temporary.

"This is going to stand out," Bob Caruso said of the statue being dedicated today.

After two months of taking donations, American Legion Post 178 had enough to purchase the bronze statue that will greet those who enter the veterans' section at Hillcrest.

"More and more people are seeing after 9/11 that you can't forget," said Caruso, the chairman of the Memorial Day ceremony. "Our veterans are dying more and more every day."

Legionnaires chose the symbols commonly used when a soldier dies in battle for the statue: an M-16 rifle, boots, goggles, helmet and dog tags. It stands 31/2 feet tall on a granite pedestal.

"To me, it's a symbol that they're not forgotten," Caruso said. "Freedom is not free, and freedom is being fought for every day."

Donations for the $5,000 memorial came from local businesses and families.

Post 178 will continue its 30-year tradition of placing flags at Hillcrest, and it has added Mount Olive and Mount Lebanon cemeteries this year. Legionnaires prepared 4,000 flags for Hillcrest and 800 for Mount Olive and Mount Lebanon.

"Each individual will get a flag every year," said Caruso, who has been part of the tradition for 21 years. "It's not just the ones in the veterans' section, but the ones throughout the whole cemetery.

"When you turn around at the end of the day, you see flags all over the place."

Members will be traveling to private cemeteries throughout Georgia and South Carolina to place additional flags.

If you go

WHEN: Flag placement, 7 a.m. today; memorial service, 9 a.m.

WHERE: Hillcrest Memorial Park, 2700 Deans Bridge Road

OF NOTE: Col. Laurence Mixon, the commander of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Gordon, will speak.