Courtesy The Beacon
By Maggie West / Staff and D. Jefferson Bean / Staff
Individually set and hand-driven, a file of white crosses stands at silent attention along a half-mile stretch of Milton’s Deerfield Parkway. In the sweltering heat, a handful of volunteers, including councilmen Bill Lusk and Joe Longoria, turned out on May 23 to erect the markers in remembrance of America’s war dead.
Lusk began the project three years ago, intending to give a patriotic institution a distinctly local flavor: each cross memorializes a relative of a Milton resident.
“My ultimate goal,” he said, “is to recognize every fallen veteran that’s related to a Milton resident. The inspiration is that we were a new city and we had no traditions, no types of recognition for anything. So, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day seemed to be two of the natural ones to initiate.”
Lusk also heralded other contributing organizations. “As a member of Piedmont Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, we traditionally mark Revolutionary War veterans graves. This is an extension of that tradition”, he emphasized.
LUSK’S LABOR OF LOVE
For Lusk, the yearly undertaking is a labor of love.
“Bill’s a veteran,” said Longoria. “He does it all himself. And he takes this stuff very much to heart. It’s a passion for him. And you must support your friends when they have that kind of passion for something. So, I’m thinking that’s why we’re all out here.”
Lusk not only funds and supervises the project, though; he constructs each marker himself. At present, there are 132 in place and 18 more at his shop.
“Each stencil is taped to a cross; then Bill sprays them with paint, takes each one off, and does it all over again,” said volunteer Steve Hernandez.” He builds the crosses, paints them, stencils them, and puts them up. It’s a tedious process. I’ve seen him do it.”
Longoria elaborated: “Bill puts them together in the back of his office building. He puts them together by hand, paints them. We spent some time this morning putting the names on some of them. He’s been doing it for three years now, and so he’s been adding to it as he goes. He’s got a page on the website where you can just basically sign up.”
And they are signing up, in greater numbers.
“I keep getting more and more help as we put more markers out,” said Lusk. “It’s becoming recognized as a city tradition. And people are just interested in getting on board. I started with roughly 50 crosses the first year. Last year we were at 96. Hopefully, by the end of this week, we’ll have 150.”
Beyond increased participation, 2010 marks the event’s first year as a multigenerational effort. As Longoria remarked of his son Joe; another volunteer: “I think it’s important. My son’s an Eagle Scout. He actually built two hundred crosses at his school for his Eagle Scout project.”
By 2:00 p.m., the row of markers had grown to half a mile in length. The task complete, Lusk’s wife, Janie, who placed an American flag atop each cross remarked, “I’m just real proud of him.”
Perhaps, even as proud as the City of Milton is of its fallen warriors.